Call for proactive interventions on mental health at ABI event

Proactive attitudes to mental health need to replace passive ones if the health and risk sector are to achieve more success in getting affected employees back to work said delegates at an ABI debate today.

While delegates acknowledged the contribution of group risk insurers, and a 200 per cent increase in employee assistance programmes (EAPs) over the last 10 years, it was noted that mental health problems in the UK have continued to grow in number.

Key to addressing the issue is that all concerned need to move from a passive to a proactive attitude to mental health. And a key factor for individuals recovering and/or dealing with a mental health problem is work. Industry experts at the event agreed that work is a normalising factor and has therapeutic properties.

But Dr Mark Winwood, clinical director for psychological health at Axa PPP Healthcare said while EAPs delivered benefits for some conditions, greater interventions were needed for more serious ones.

Winwood said: “EAP is an excellent vehicle for individuals to access psychological care but it is not the answer to the management more serious mental health issues that are being seen in the workplace.

“I would recommend that any contemporary EA or workplace mental health service be guided by the stepped care approach that is advocated by NICE and ensure that those that require more intensive treatment than can be delivered via an EAP be directed towards further assessment and then to evidenced based psychological interventions such as CBT or IPT, or to a psychiatrist should that level of intervention be required. This could be funded by a medical insurance scheme.

“The old medical insurance model, whereby GPs refer directly to a consultant psychiatrist is, in many cases, inappropriate, and, for employers unnecessarily costly, for dealing with patients with mild to moderate depression and anxiety. A consistently applied stepped, and matched, care pathway is a far easier journey for anyone who is struggling with a mental issue to navigate.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind said: “We are making progress in terms of changing the way we are thinking about mental health but it is a slow journey. Younger people view mental health very differently. For employers, that is going to be an important issue – when we look at employees and younger people, graduates deciding where they are going to work their decisions are not just based on pay but quality of lifestyle they will be able to have in my workplace.”

Katharine Moxham spokesperson for Group Risk Development (GRiD) pointed out that in recent years group income protection products have been designed to offer added value services such as HR support and legal support, full EAPs including face to face counselling, case management, vocational rehabilitation, second opinion services.

“It is important that these services are used on a daily basis by the employer and the employee even if a claim is never made on the policy,” she said. “They are extremely effective in keeping people in the workplace and giving them the support they need to make their lives.

“It is important for the employer to understand the products and services that they have and to use them to best effect and pool them into a cohesive programme. I would encourage employers to take a step back, look at what they do, look at where they need to improve, to ensure they can play their part in better supporting those with mental health conditions.”