How To Destress During A Pandemic With Rebecca Smith

Small Business Canada

“Mental health has become the fastest growing and leading cause of disability claims in Canada today – collectively, we talk about it more, hear about it more in the news and in the workplace, and have become more aware and more likely to seek treatment. As employers continue to grapple with the incidence of of122 mental health in the workplace, new innovations are enabling profound and positive impacts.” 

Rebecca Smith brings more than 25 years of disability management experience and progressive leadership to her role as Director of Group Life & Disability Services at Medavie Blue Cross. In this senior management position, she is responsible for managing rehabilitation services, medication consultations and partnerships, along with ongoing training and auditing of disability management programs and offerings. Rebecca draws on an extensive background in claims management, quality assurance and training. She began her career as a claims assessor for the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, gradually working her way up to top management posts with leading insurance carriers in Ontario. 

CanadianSME recently had a chance to chat with Rebecca Smith from  Medavie Blue Cross and discussed about the mental health during the crisis.

What do you believe is the main reason that many Canadians are suffering from mental health issues during the pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a great number of challenges and uncertainty. Many individuals were forced into isolation, which is not a normal way to live. All generations are feeling the effects of this isolation – in particular, we know it’s taken a toll on the younger generation and seniors. 

Job loss and financial stress is also a major contributor – many Canadians have experienced job loss or layoffs and are worrying about their future. For those working, this has been a difficult time for many trying to balance their new normal – working remotely, living/working in the same space, and in many circumstances, taking care of children/ageing parents.

What are the most common symptoms that can determine a person is suffering from “traumatic stress” and other mental health-related issues?

From a claims perspective, we often see persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, difficulty sleeping, increases/decreases in weight, irritability and overall loss of energy. We recommend that anyone exhibiting signs or symptoms of mental illness visit a physician or trained professional to help identify what the problem might be and advise on effective coping strategies and treatment options. 

What are some of the initiatives that the federal government has implemented to help those impacted by mental health issues? What other initiatives can they put in place that can benefit Canadians suffering from “traumatic stress”?

From my perspective, the government has made a positive impact in ensuring Canadians have access to mental health support throughout the pandemic. Between relaying details on crisis lines, providing free mental health resources and normalizing mental health – these are all important steps to ensuring those who need help can receive it.

Many small businesses are struggling as their current health benefits package doesn’t cover mental health needs for their employees. How do you believe this is impacting Canadian employees and what initiatives should entrepreneurs implement that can benefit their employees?

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability claims, accounting for 30 per cent of claims and 70 per cent of costs, prior to COVID-19. Before COVID-19, half a million Canadians were away from work each week due to stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health-related issues. 

Inadequate mental health benefits can negatively impact employees and the employer. Employees are unable to get the treatment they need to help manage their mental health challenges. According to Medaca Health Group, mental health issues can consume up to 14 per cent of an organization’s net annual profits. Overstaffing, temporary workers, recruitment, hiring costs, and retraining are all direct and/or indirect consequences that affect the bottom line.  

With that in mind, small businesses and entrepreneurs should evaluate whether or not their current benefits plan sufficiently addresses the mental health needs of their employees – an investment in the health and wellness of employees can have a direct impact on company profits.  

For small businesses where benefits are available, take advantage of them. It is important to understand the return on investment for the employer. 

What are some of the programs and resources that Medavie Blue Cross offers to Canadians that are struggling with mental health problems?

Over the past decade, and certainly, now, the mental health needs of Canadians in the workplace have grown exponentially. As a health solutions partner, Medavie Blue Cross is committed to offering access to mental health professionals and other specialized services to support workplace wellness.

We are enhancing the delivery of services, leveraging the speed of digital solutions and updating plan designs to offer higher benefit maximums for services associated with mental health practitioners. We’re also expanding the types of mental health practitioners that we cover, including counselling therapists, psychotherapists and psychoeducators. 

Through our Connected Care digital health platform, plan members have access to online doctors, personalized medicine and digital therapy, otherwise known as internet-enabled Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has been proven to be clinically effective for a wide range of mental health issues, from anxiety to depression to panic and post-traumatic stress.

In short, we’re focusing on providing our plan members with accessible care, when and where they need it. We will continue to form strategic partnerships, invest resources and leverage new technologies to develop innovative, collaborative solutions that increase accessibility to care, support mental resiliency and ultimately improve the wellbeing of Canadians affected by mental illness.

On a final note, what is the best advice you can give to Canadian employees who are currently experiencing “high levels of stress” and other mental health issues that can be beneficial to them?

It is so important to encourage people to take action – never ignore it. There are many resources available to individuals within benefits programs, and we encourage them to find that support. Start with small steps – sometimes it can be one small change that makes all the difference. The important thing is to take that first step and know that options are available.

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