There have been a lot of challenges to our collective mental health over the last few years. We have been bombarded on multiple fronts with images and discourse related to anger, despair, and outrage. Many of us were ill prepared and ill equipped to process the barrage of information and images we received. And in 2022, with the added uncertainty, angst, and concern arising from the Russian invasion of Ukraine there is yet another layer of issues that can impact our mental health and daily functioning. Research from the Boston University School of Public Health published in 2021 indicated that rates of depression have worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic and now affect 1 in every 3 American Adults.
Medical research has concluded that mental health disorders, those that are diagnosed by a physician or counselor and require treatments and interventions including possible medications, are multifactorial. There is likely a genetic component that contributes to chemical production in the brain that is influenced by life experiences/circumstances and impacted by external factors beyond an individual person’s control.
Not surprisingly, employers have noted an increase in mental health concerns among employees since the start of the pandemic. Most of the time, employees can seek care and remain at work. Sometimes, employees need to take time away from work. When medically diagnosed with a condition that results in their inability to work, they may be eligible for disability insurance that pays them a portion of their income so that they can focus on their return to wellness.
Additionally, individuals who are on disability leave for other reasons, like cancer, may develop mental health issues like depression and anxiety in response to pain or fear of the unknown, including concerns about how effectively they can return to work and do their jobs.
Your disability partner is an extension of your HR team serving as an advocate for you and your employees. At Sun Life, we have a clinical team dedicated to members with behavioral health related impairment. These business and clinical professionals have extensive experience with interacting directly with people who are dealing with ongoing, debilitating mental illness and understand the need for personalized attention and frequent interactions to facilitate return to health and work. Our Claims Innovation Lab has taken this one step further by specifically addressing mental wellness concerns with members who are suffering from other conditions, including heart disease and cancer, by providing our broader claims organization with helpful tools, including interview questions, to help all of our Case Managers support the mental health needs of our clients.
One of the good things about the turmoil of the last several years is that people are more willing to talk about these issues, even at work! It is more accepted that there are stressors that everyone deals with on a regular basis.
Employers can help employees by reminding them of resources such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), providing additional training for managers regarding recognizing and intervening with employees that are having difficulties, and by providing job accommodations or modifications that can allow an employee to successfully stay at work or transition back to full-time work after an illness or injury. More ideas can be found on Sun Life’s recently published resource, Building a workplace mental wellness strategy at www.sunlife.com/mentalwellness.
This May, and beyond, we celebrate both mental health and disability insurance awareness. There has probably never been a more important time to remind employees about their mental wellness resources, to encourage a mental wellness culture, and reduce stigma for individuals who need time away from work or are returning to work.
This article is meant to provide general information only. It’s not professional medical or legal advice, or a substitute for that advice.
Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, Wellesley Hills, MA. For New York group policies: Sun Life and Health Insurance Company (U.S.), Lansing, MI
GGWC-11097 SLPC 31586 5/22 (Expire 5/24)