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Four in ten employee helpline calls relate to mental health

Almost half (41%) of all calls made by employees to their organisation’s employee assistance programme (EAP) are for mental health concerns, new figures show.

The data, collected by employee benefits provider Personal Group between January and March 2020, also showed that more than half (54%) of the helpline calls came from men.

The first calls made specifically related to the coronavirus pandemic came in March.

Almost one in 20 employees (4%) that month made a call relating to COVID-19, with more than half (53%) of those calls coming from men.

The data was based on 2,160 calls from employees across Personal Group’s customer portfolio.

“Mental health is a broad topic and poor mental health can be triggered by a range of stressful life events, genetics, work related issues, physical health problems so this research doesn’t really give any depth to understanding what specifically the 41% of people are calling about and what were the triggers,” Emily Pearson, founder and managing director at Our Mind’s Work, told HR magazine.

“What is interesting from the research, however, is that 54% of the calls were from men.

“Even though this isn’t a significant gender split with just 166 more men than women calling the EAP, what it could tell us is that men feel more comfortable calling a confidential line to speak to a stranger about their mental health concerns due to the fear of stigma.

“More positively, it is good to see that these men decided to seek support and take action to find professional services that can help.”

Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at mental health charity Mind, echoed Pearson’s comments on male mental health.

She said: "We know that men can find it particularly difficult to open up about what they’re experiencing and that one in eight men have a mental health problem in any given year.

“They may also just be unaware of how they can access help. It is possible that lockdown is exacerbating these issues for some men so it is particularly encouraging to see men using EAPs.”

Personal Group’s findings come as the government issued new guidance on making workplaces safer.

Throughout Mental Health Awareness Week this week, Personal Group will be calling on employers to increase mental health support for workers.

Deborah Frost, chief executive at Personal Group, said: “Now is the time for employers to take extra care of their people.

“Making sure that everyone has quick and easy access to counselling services could be crucial to keeping employees on-track during these challenging times. The duty of care should extend beyond the workplace and be available when people need it the most.”

Frost recommended that employers give their workers “a safe space to manage their own mental, physical and financial wellbeing through EAPs.”

Our Mind’s Work also promotes the use of EAPs, however Pearson also pointed to other preventative measures as a source for employee support.

She added: “Our Mind’s Work promotes and provides preventative initiatives through virtual mental health webinars and training to give employees the education, skills and tools to look after their own mental health and collaborate in the workplace to prevent poor mental health.

“Having an EAP is a reactive measure. Employers who focus on preventing the onset of mental health problems before they occur, and supporting people to stay well at work, is an important approach to improving mental health in our workplaces and communities.

“Especially right now, due to the psychological impacts of COVID-19, prevention is paramount.”

The theme for 2020’s Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness. For employers considering how they support the mental wellbeing of their people Mental Health at Work has a number of resources available online to help take the first steps, including a coronavirus toolkit.

Further reading:

Employee mental health needs to be safeguarded

Top tips for establishing a mentally-healthy workplace

Case study: Mental health support led by the individual