Promote EFAPs to improve access to mental health services

A lot of work is being done to reduce the stigma around mental health in Canada, but it’s no secret that provincial mental health services and support can be hard to come by.

For that reason, advisors have an opportunity value to their clients by including EFAP in benefits discussions with employers.

According to waitimes.novascotia.ca, a provincial website designed to help Nova Scotians navigate the healthcare system, people can wait upwards of 383 days in certain communities in Nova Scotia for mental health services. Generally speaking, the situation looks shockingly similar across the country.

“Mental illness is just like any other physical health issues like heart disease or diabetes,” says Laurel Walker, Mental Health Advocate and Founder of the Halifax Walk for World Suicide Prevention Day. “We know that with any health issue, the earlier you intervene the better your chances are for proper diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. The current wait times in our province make it almost impossible for this to happen, especially if someone is in crisis.”

But, thankfully, all hope is not lost. Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAP) offer support, advice, and resources for a wide range of problems and concerns people face every day. Whether it’s emotional well-being, work issues, parenting and child care, financial and legal issues, employees and their family members can typically contact their EFAP to discuss anything that may be troubling them.

In Nova Scotia, 90% of people are served within 115 days non-emergency mental health services. On the flip side, many EFAPs can be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at which time some emergency services can be arranged right away. Other non-emergency appointments can usually be accommodated within a few business days.

“If someone is dealing with an on-going mental health issue or is in crisis, it’s critical that they have access to services—the sooner the better,” says Walker.  “It can be scary to reach out when you’re in the middle of struggling with mental illness, especially with the stigma that often accompanies it. Having access to services and qualified professionals, when they are needed, can make an impact on how a person sees the possibility of resolving and overcoming their illness.”

Timelines is just one of the obvious benefits of having access to an EFAP. Anonymity and confidentiality are also high on the list of reasons why employees appreciate the services. Many experiences an extra layer of comfort knowing they can to talk to a trained professional over the phone, from the comfort of home. Some programs even have the option to request resources via email. Depending on the subject matter, resources could include books, articles, CDs, and DVDs on a variety of topics. 

Advisor approaches

AS an advisor, you should always offer EFAPs as an option and if your clients opt in, promote the program as often as possible. Introducing the program at initial meetings may not be sufficient in all situations. Reminders at quarterly or annual reviews will likely be helpful and appreciated.

To take things further, you should consider offering to help coordinate an awareness campaign for your clients’ employees. Other options include arranging employee presentations, displaying posters in the boardroom or staffroom, providing content for internal newsletters or sending promotional information to employees at home. Understanding the depth and breadth of the program, along with the confidential nature of the services, will encourage employees to access it when the need arises.

It may also provide an opportunity to remind plan members of the paramedical coverage included in the group benefits program. Counselling, psychologists, and psychiatry, not to mention massage and other physical therapies, can also go a long way to support mental health.

The goal of benefits advisors is to provide and increase access to health care solutions for employees. Whether the focus is physical or mental health it is in your clients’ best interest to take advantage of the services included in their group benefits program. Being proactive about their employees’ wellbeing could lead to improved overall health, decreased incidences of time away from work and possible disability claims.