Stephen Duff, MD of HSF health plan, examines what employers can do to look after the mental wellbeing of their staff

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Mental wellbeing is no longer a taboo topic. There’s a lot more awareness about the impact that it has on people’s lives, and people are more open to discussing it – the stiff upper lip of old is far less prevalent.

Responsibility for employees’ wellbeing is now falling far more onto employers’ shoulders as mental health gains this higher profile in the healthcare conversation.

A huge number of people are suffering mental illness at some point in their lives, however the services that the government are currently providing are inadequate. In some cases, people are having to travel over 200 miles to get to treatment – which in itself must cause immense stress to already vulnerable people.

And this is where the employer’s responsibility lies: to make sure their employees suffering from mental wellness issues have somewhere to turn – a responsibility which will only increase with the increasing strain on the health services and difficulties in accessing them.

Of course, from the corporate perspective – budgets and bottom line – it makes good business sense for organisations to play a greater part in providing their employees with the services that will help and support them inside work.

Stress is the biggest cause of absence from work, so purely in monetary terms the impact on the economy is huge, and the impact on individual companies is even bigger.

So whether from a moral or financial point of view, provision of mental wellness services is entirely in a company’s interests. Most employers realise this – but whether or not they then provide services for employees is another matter.

HSF health plan believe in being flexible and helping employers to create a strategy that suits the needs of their company and their budget.

Our Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), HSF Assist, is included in our corporate healthcare schemes, but for organisations who are looking for a plan tailored to mental wellness it is the perfect standalone benefit, carrying less of a cost than a standard health cash plan.

The standalone service includes benefits such as a GP advice line, and a virtual doctor service: enabling employees to speak to a doctor at a time that suits them, without having to go into a surgery, and be issued with immediate prescriptions if necessary.

Policyholders can also access a health information website which is regularly updated and medically validated.

HSF Assist gives employees looking for mental wellness help access to a professional counsellor over the phone 24 hours a day and if needs be, face to face counselling near their home or office location. Whichever they choose, during particularly stressful times at home and at work, they are able to make an appointment with a professional counsellor – as a one-off session, or a series of appointments with the same counsellor.

Some organisations also choose to offer a cash plan on a voluntary basis alongside the EAP, thus giving employees access to a whole range of different benefits: dental and optical, hospital grants, personal injury benefits, alternative treatments and so on. However, for those who don’t, only a few pounds per employee per year will provide them with HSF Assist and cover their mental wellbeing needs in the workplace.

Although mental wellbeing is something we can’t physically see, the impact on both individual employees and on companies as a whole is enormous – and that is why 2016 will see a huge drive around wellness.

If employers can provide a stress helpline that employees know they can use confidentially, at any time of day, then they know that they – as well as their family – have somewhere to turn.

They don’t have to make an appointment with their GP or wait to be referred to a professional counsellor. The ease of access makes a huge difference compared to the NHS waiting times.

With employers choosing HSF Assist they can inform their employees that there is help available early on before problems develop. It’s a very hopeful message.