Employers need to recognise there is a world of difference in the level of intervention that people need for low mood and mild anxiety to that needed for severe depression and other mental illnesses, argues Christine Husbands. Using the leadership and expertise of occupational health can often help employers put in place the most appropriate solutions.
We all know there are a lot of employer-funded support services out there that offer mental health support. However, it is important for employers to recognise – and for occupational health to be communicating – that many do not cater for more complex and enduring mental health issues, such as severe depression, trauma and psychiatric disorders.
Many services are only limited to mild to moderate mental health issues, such as low mood and anxiety, for instance via apps and employee assistance programmes.
There is a world of difference in the support that people need for low mood and mild anxiety to that needed for severe depression and other mental illnesses, and very few services address the latter.
While it is great that companies are making support more accessible for mental wellbeing, we’d argue that it is vital that support is also put in place for more serious mental health conditions.
Supporting serious mental health conditions
Serious mental health conditions are not uncommon, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harm, severe depression and psychosis. It is vital that people who experience these are catered for by effective support services.
Mental ill health
As supporting mental health and wellbeing is at the top of corporate agendas, companies are keen to make help accessible, and that of course is laudable and to be encouraged.
But alongside this it is important that employers are aware of the differences between help for mild to moderate conditions and the sort of support needed for more complex, severe or enduring mental health issues.
Most services, to be fair, do offer valuable ‘in the moment’ support but, if additional support is needed, may often fall short.
Indeed, some services even have a list of exclusions covering the more complex mental health conditions whereas for others, it is down to the practitioner’s judgement whether they expect the issues to be resolved by the short course of counselling or CBT available.
Sadly, we hear of many people who have been turned away from mental health support services because their mental health condition was excluded, or that the available therapies were not judged to be appropriate.
This can be incredibly detrimental and put recovery time back significantly – yet, ironically, these are the people who need the most help.
Support encompassing the full spectrum, from mild through to severe mental health conditions, must be available for all people to be fully supported.
Long-term help from mental health specialists
Comprehensive support for more severe conditions needs to be put in place if companies really want to give people access to the most appropriate support. Leaning on the expertise that occupational health can provide can be a great starting point.”
We’d argue strongly that support for serious mental health conditions needs to include access to long-term help from a mental health specialist as well as a course of the most appropriate therapy if needed. It needs to include:
- Risk assessment
- Screening using clinical tools, such as PHQ9/GAD7
- Help with coping strategies
- Short- and long-term goals and planning
- Guidance on appropriate tools and resources
- Help to access services from the NHS, or available employee benefits
- Long-term resilience tools
- Return-to-work support
The term ‘mental health’ covers a wide range of conditions and severities and is therefore very complicated, so it needs a comprehensive approach.
It is understandable that, often, companies may think that just because they have put some mental health support in place, they have then ticked the box and it is ‘job done’.
But they may not appreciate that that support is quite limited in practice. At RedArc, we often see the fall-out from that approach.
Comprehensive support for more severe conditions, in addition to mild to moderate, also needs to be put in place if companies really want to give people access to the most appropriate support for them. Leaning on the expertise and leadership that occupational health can provide in terms of accessing the most appropriate pathways can be a great starting point.
Ultimately, we see some very positive results from people who have access to fuller support. Employers need to recognise they can help to make that difference, but it may need a more complex, nuanced approach.