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Mental health support often not available to workers who need it most

There are a lot of support services that offer mental health support, however many do not cater for more complex and enduring mental health issues, such as severe depression, trauma and psychiatric disorders.

That’s according to RedArc, which says many support services are only limited to mild to moderate mental health issues, such as low mood and anxiety, for instance via apps and employee assistance programmes.

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc says: ‘There is a world of difference in the support that people need for low mood and mild anxiety, to that needed for severe depression and other mental illnesses, and very few services address the latter. It’s great that companies are making support more accessible for mental wellbeing, but it’s vital that support is also put in place for more serious mental health conditions.’

Serious mental health conditions are not uncommon, such as PTSD, self-harm, severe depression and psychosis; and it’s vital that people who experience these are catered for by support services.

As supporting mental health and wellbeing is at the top of corporate agendas, companies are keen to make help accessible, but it’s important that they’re aware of the differences between help for mild to moderate conditions, and severe or enduring mental health issues.

Most services offer valuable ‘In the moment’ support, but if additional support is needed, it often falls short. Indeed, some services have a list of exclusions covering the more complex mental health conditions, with others it is down to the practitioner’s judgement whether they expect the issues to be resolved by the short course of counselling or CBT available.

Husbands continues: ‘Sadly, we hear of many people who have been turned away from mental health support services because their mental health condition was excluded, or that the available therapies were not judged to be appropriate. This can be incredibly detrimental and put recovery time back significantly – ironically, these are the people that need the most help. Support encompassing the full spectrum, from mild through to severe mental health conditions, must be available for all people to be fully supported.’

Support for serious mental health conditions needs to include access to long-term help from a mental health specialist as well as a course of the most appropriate therapy if needed. It needs to include:

  • Risk assessment
  • Screening using clinical tools, such as PHQ9/GAD7
  • Help with coping strategies
  • Short- and long-term goals and planning
  • Guidance on appropriate tools and resources
  • Help to access services from the NHS, or available employee benefits
  • Long-term resilience tools
  • Return-to-work support

Husbands concludes: ‘The term mental health covers a wide range of conditions and severities and is therefore very complicated, so it needs a comprehensive approach. We understand that when companies see that mental health support can be provided that they think they’ve ticked that box, but they may not appreciate that the support is quite limited in practice. We see the fall-out from that approach. Comprehensive support for more severe conditions, in addition to mild to moderate, also needs to be put in place if companies really want to give people access to the most appropriate support for them. We see some very positive results from people that have access to fuller support.’

employers advised to increase bereavement support

RedArc is warning employers to be prepared for a huge spike in the need for bereavement support services and counselling for employees during the remainder of 2021.

Based on year-to-date figures, the nurse-led wellbeing service is predicting a 40% year-on-year increase in referrals to its bereavement support, which means that it will help the largest number of bereaved individuals in one year in its 23-year history. This follows several years of bereavement referrals being relatively stable.

Further analysis of RedArc’s data shows that in quarter one of 2021, referrals for bereavement were second only to mental health conditions (of which there are many variants), and ahead of orthopaedic issues and cancer.

In addition, RedArc believes that many of the employees who lost loved ones during the second wave of the pandemic are yet to come forward for support. Bereavement, grief and loss cause a number of symptoms and emotions that individuals usually learn to cope with but where these feelings become overwhelming and do not subside, professional support may be sought several months, or even years, after the initial loss.

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc, said: “Employers are likely to be seeing the after-effects of the pandemic on their employees before we do, so many will already understand the impact that losing a loved in such an untimely manner is having on staff. Unfortunately, the pandemic not only took away loved ones but also removed our ability to properly grieve: not being at a loved one’s bedside, reduced numbers at funerals, social distancing, a hug ‘ban’, and being unable to see family and friends, means more people than ever are struggling with their emotions in bereavement.”

Employers need to re-familiarise with bereavement support
RedArc is encouraging all employers to re-familiarise themselves with how they support their staff during a bereavement. Whether or not this is via existing employee benefits such as group risk insurances or funded on a case-by-case basis, it’s important to communicate this information to employees.

Husbands continued:“Following the stresses and strains of the past eighteen months, employers may find that their staff are not emotionally resilient at present and therefore coming to terms with the loss of a loved one is even more difficult. In addition, many families will have organised a relatively small funeral but may be looking to host a larger celebration-of-life service or ceremony at a later date, which means the grieving process is also extended. Therefore, employers should also be aware that their employees may grieve harder and for longer than in normal circumstances.”

Types of bereavement support
As well as providing emotional support for the employee and their immediate family, bereavement services may also offer tailored support ranging from reading materials such as books, CDs, workbooks and fact-sheets as well as signposting employees towards national and local bereavement charities and self-help groups. Practical help often includes sourcing care for family members left behind, helping the employee juggle work, childcare etc, support for parents also coping with their children’s grief, and coping strategies for dealing with milestones such as anniversaries, birthdays and Christmas.

Husbands concluded:”There is no timetable for the grieving process – everyone will have a different experience. That’s why employers need to ensure they have support in place that can be tailored to meet the individual needs of staff because no-one can predict how long it will take to adjust to living without a family member or loved one particularly when lost in difficult circumstances.”

COVID Recovery ‘could be prolonged’ if staff aren’t supported

Recovery from Long Covid symptoms could be more prolonged if employees are not supported, according to RedArc Nurses, which is encouraging employers to ensure any staff who are suffering get the right support and are not left to cope alone.

As is becoming evident, Long Covid is not a static condition – it can cause a range of changing neurological, psychiatric and physical symptoms of which there are now over 50 reported. Many areas of the body can be affected such as respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological and manifest in symptoms such as breathlessness, muscle or joint pain, headaches, fatigue, digestive issues, anxiety and vertigo. To further complicate matters, individual symptoms can improve and relapse, causing some people to feel that they are suddenly unable to cope. It’s vital that people get the right support as early as possible or symptoms could be more prolonged.

Christine Husbands, Managing Director for RedArc, said: “One of the main issues with Long Covid is that the goalposts keep shifting. Employees can feel quite in control on one day and then a change in the type or severity of symptoms can mean a huge step backwards on another.

“This has huge implications for treatment and support: employees need to be treated as individuals as the symptoms vary so much from person to person – a one-size-fits-all approach simply won’t address the very personal nature of the illness, and secondly, the support needs to be agile and adapt to the individual’s condition as it evolves.”

Mental and physical health are intrinsically linked
For some time, the medical profession has acknowledged the significant link between physical and mental health with one directly impacting the other which has led RedArc to have concerns that the mental strain of experiencing a slow and drawn-out recovery from COVID-19 may also take its toll.

Husbands continues:“Over many years of supporting people with physical illnesses, we’ve witnessed individuals struggle mentally when they are not able to live their lives as fully as they once could, particularly when there is no real end date in sight. In addition, in terms of COVID-19 and Long Covid, we’re not only dealing with the mental health impact of the condition itself but also the fact that people have been coping in isolation or with very little social contact which can exacerbate the impact on mental health.”

A new disease
For many, a very frightening aspect of experiencing Long Covid is that it is new and relatively little is known about the condition. There is a significant benefit in having the support of a medical professional with whom to discuss the emotional journey that accompanies it.

Husbands added: “Whether they have severe or milder symptoms, many employees will be battling through without making a fuss believing they are ‘lucky to be alive’. However, if we want to reduce the impact that Long Covid has on individuals’ lives, their workplaces, and the community as a whole, support needs to be offered at the earliest opportunity.

“Support that is too generic however, won’t cut it for Long Covid as everyone is so different, the symptoms are so wide ranging and interlinked, which is why it’s important that support is personalised. For instance, not only do we help people with their specific symptoms but we also help with advice on pacing and rehabilitation, and support in returning to the workplace. By utilising the support available in employer-sponsored health and wellbeing benefits, insurances and via membership organisations, those with Long Covid will get the best possible help in dealing with the after-effects of the virus as well as putting in place early intervention support to recognise and respond to new symptoms as they arise.”