Mental Health Awareness Week webinar: your questions answered

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To mark Mental Health Awareness Week in May, we ran a Make A Difference webinar, sponsored by Lyra Health which had the title: “One size does NOT fit all: How to provide holistic, individual support across the entire employee lifecycle as demand for mental health support increases”.

More than 55% of the webinar attendees confirmed in the opening poll that they are struggling to meet the growing complexity of colleagues’ mental health care needs.

Here, Dr Catherine McKinven, chartered Counseling Psychologist and Clinical Lead for Lyra UK and Ireland, who sponsored the webinar, elaborates on some of the far-ranging questions that were raised by the highly-engaged webinar audience. From what is the difference between workplace and personal stress, to how do you tackle addiction in the workplace.

You can access the recording of the webinar and responses to some of these questions that were given by the other panels during the webinar here

Q: What is the demographic and sample size of the survey referenced in Catherine’s introduction?

The report referenced in the introduction is Lyra’s “State of Workforce Mental Health Report” which you can access here. The sample size used for the report was as follows:

  • 3000 employees, biggest sample size would have been from the US, but it was taken from the US, UK, India, South America and Mexico.
  • The UK data is from UNUM.

Q: What is the difference between workplace stress and personal stress?

In its simplest form, personal stress arises out of factors such as relationships, life changes, physical health issues, financial pressures, ill family members, conflict, and a range of other social factors. Work related stress tends to arise out of issues relating to the workplace. 

These can be similar in that it could arise from difficulties and conflicts with work colleagues, managers, or changes in the organisation.   It may also arise out of demands on the employee or job role confusion or conflict.  

As Richard Peters, Goldman Sachs’ Medical Director EMEA said during the webinar, it can be caused by multiple factors and is multifaceted. Control has a strong relationship with both personal and work stress.  If the individual experiences or perceives a lack of control in aspects of their life, they are likely to experience stress. 

There is good and bad stress. Some individuals thrive on a certain level of stress as a source of motivation, that can enhance performance. This type of stress tends to result in excitement and does not trigger feelings of fear and threat. It can occur both personally and at work. The main difference between the good and bad stress will be the reaction and feelings associated with them. Bad stress will tend to be more associated with negative feelings, that trigger the threat system.

The challenge is that once stress starts to build it can quickly lead to other difficulties such as anxiety and low mood. Stress that starts in one area of a person’s life can quickly spread to another as the individual starts to feel overwhelmed and a loss of control. It is important that the individual reaches out for support as early as possible to protect their coping mechanisms from being overwhelmed. Accessing an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) would be an important step in supporting an individual going through either work or personal stress.   

Q: What processes can organisations/EAPs put in place to see people as individuals and not a health condition?

From an organisational perspective I think it is important to understand the range of employees that make up the organisation. Different generations, genders, socio-economic groups, education levels and job roles within an organisation may all have different priorities and needs. It is important to understand what those needs are. 

For example, the retail sector of a large corporation will not have the same needs as engineers necessarily or higher-level management. Breaking the corporation down into different areas and looking at their attrition, absenteeism, utilisation of benefits such as EAP can be a good indicator of needs across the workplace. Surveys that capture what benefits employees would like, or what their wellbeing needs are, can also be important. Having support for lifecycle changes, such as parenting support or menopause support is helpful as well as neurodiversity.      

It is important to ensure that those with health conditions are not excluded in the workplace or seen only through a label. If someone is neurodivergent or has a mental health condition, then it is important to have managers work with that person to understand what their needs may be and what reasonable adjustments can support them at work.       

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From a provider perspective we have taken the same stance of seeing the person as an individual and treating all conditions on a case-by-case basis. While a diagnosis is helpful in understanding some of the challenges an individual may face, it is more important to explore the context behind it and who that individual is.   

We could assess a range of people with the same diagnosis, yet they could all be very different in presentation, who they are and how they cope with difficulties. It is not helpful for us to work with an exclusion driven policy that excludes someone because of a diagnosis as there are so many variants that come through our service and we have to see the bigger picture of the local landscape and the treatment trajectory for people with more complex needs. 

It is not helpful to simply say no to someone with more complex needs without a treatment pathway to support them. Our approach is to provide a clinical assessment of needs and look for that opportunity to support. Even in a short term model of care there are many opportunities to provide a piece of valuable work that can help support the individual in the here and now while they await more specialist care. 

This bridging style of support can act as a preventative measure for someone – preventing them from deteriorating further should they be waiting for NHS care. We feel that our clinical led approach, that is tightly governed with case escalation and Psychologist oversight, allows us to bring a flexibility to care that can respond to challenges accessing public services in a timely fashion. 

Q: We do have an EAP which offers a lot of support, but employees are not really using it. How can we encourage them?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Forge relationships with other stakeholders in the organisation to provide more support and encourage them to promote or refer colleagues to the EAP as a triage point for employee services.
  • Low utilisation does not necessarily mean low need. It is important to explore and ask employees about the service to understand why it may not be getting used. Is your EAP working for you? A good EAP will partner with you to look at ways in which you can drive utilisation and communicate with your employees. The quality of care is also important. If employees have been turned away or had a poor experience, then this tends to drive engagement down. If employees are having a positive experience and getting the support they need, the word does get around which lifts engagement.  
  • Having mental health champions who are willing to discuss a positive EAP experience will often encourage others and reduce stigmatisation. 

Q: Do you have any data around what percentage of employees actually use the services that you offer?

We have found quite a lot of variance across organisations with regards to utilisation. In organisations where our service is well promoted, our utilisation can be in excess of 20%. If utilisation were low and not increasing across a year, we would be discussing that in our reviews with the organisation to understand why that may be and exploring initiatives that can drive engagement.

Q: Do you think the name ‘EAP’ encourages people to engage? Does it effectively summarise the support that it provides?

Here at Lyra, our legacy with over 35 years of history in the EAP industry under the ICAS brand, means we were one of the first EAP providers in the UK and drove the evolution in the industry. The term EAP has a longstanding history and is an all encompassing term to allow for the additional services an EAP will provide – mental health, legal and financial information for example – assisting the whole employee.

However, that is a double-edged sword, as over the years some have attached a stigma or ill-perception to the term and some argue it’s an outdated term.

Despite the history and legacy, the term EAP isn’t synonymous for all with employee wellness – so some providers have started to revolutionise the terminology and overall offering to ensure it stays relevant in with the modern workforce.   At Lyra we are moving away from the term EAP and now our product is known as the workforce mental health and wellbeing. This enables us to focus more on the holistic nature of supporting mental health in the workplace, as we evolve our product as an expansion of a traditional EAP. 

Q: We currently have a new team member who became a new parent three weeks in. His sleepless nights and learning a new role seem to be taking a toll on him! He could do with our EAP more than anyone but as a new starter doesn’t have access to the EAP. Is this normal?

This would be an organisational contract.  Normally EAP is open to all employees and tends to support earlier than private medical insurance offering, but this decision would be with the organisation usually in their contracting with their EAP. 

There was a documentary last night on addiction in the entertainment industry and there is a link to mental health. This does not seem to be mentioned in workplaces.  Is this due to the stigma attached to this topic.  What are your thoughts on how addiction should be addressed and does this have a place in wellbeing conversations?

In the entertainment industry, they’re working unsociable and long hours. In order to address this you need to see whether it’s a problem, potentially putting in drug testing to see how much of a problem it is.

Q: Does the panel think that new working from home culture helped with peoples mental health, or has this made the outcomes worse for employees?

Again, one size does not fit all. During the pandemic we were in a situation where people were suddenly forced to work from home. This of course would suit some better than others and many people were negatively impacted by that for a range of reasons. These included being able to manage work/life balance working at home, having an adequate environment to work, other demands at home and so forth.  

I think that a lot of people perhaps took for granted the importance of informal interactions that they have while in an office space and how these provided vital social interactions and informal support.   

However, now we are in a territory where organisations can offer flexibility to employees, and many have opted for a hybrid arrangement. I think having flexible offerings is a positive approach in supporting individual mental health. For example, many neurodiverse employees have felt a huge benefit from being able to work from home. It has enabled them a level of comfort that may not have been available previously as many workspaces are designed in a way that is not neuro-inclusive.

Q: Why won’t Lyra take companies with less than 500 employees?

 We do engage with corporations of all sizes, including smaller organisations. Please get in touch to discuss your needs further to establish how we can support you. 


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