A review of various mental health solutions
Here’s a list of the different types of mental health services available to you, with a review from us on each.
We’re not exactly Tripadvisor, but we do have plenty of experience with both the employee and employer side of mental health.
We’ve taken 8 different types of services, and scored them based on:
- Accessibility – how easy is this solution for someone to access or use?
- Affordability – how costly or expensive is this for the business?
- Safety – how safe is this solution?
- Impact – how impactful is this for an individual’s mental health?
Disclaimer: this is subjective and from our personal experience with our own mental health and from the thousands of conversations we’ve had with people & businesses about their mental health in the last four years. We’ve tried to be as impartial as possible, but we understand that people will have differing views. There’s also no one right or wrong solution as what every individual and business needs is different, so we’ve steered clear of suggesting what the best solution(s) is, although we’ve still given our honest opinion.
#1 Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs)
What it is: Over-the-phone counselling support offered to employees after an initial assessment. Generally maxed at six sessions per employee.
In our experience, EAPs are the most common mental health solution out there for businesses and for individuals accessing mental health support through work.
Yet we hear time and time again that they are no longer fit for purpose. While in theory they are very accessible and often act as helplines, in practice we know that people are either unaware of their existence or don’t feel comfortable using them or asking HR for the number.
We also hear very, very mixed reviews on the quality of the counselling or advice at the other end of the phone, and individuals are often restricted to a maximum of six sessions.
One thing EAPs do have in their favour is that they cover more than just mental health, yet that might mean they’re generic, depending on how you look at it. They’re also affordable for businesses, often with a fairly low per person cost. As far as we’re aware, they also often bring down insurance claims, so there’s another financial benefit.
We’ve heard perhaps one or two positive stories about EAPs in the last 4 years – so life-changing experiences can and do happen, but are generally far and few between.
#2 Private Medical Insurance (PMI)
What it is: Insurance policy covering the cost of private healthcare. The good ones will include certain mental health cover too
Similarly to EAPs, some private medical insurance offers access to a certain number of counselling or therapy sessions, depending on the type of cover the business purchases. In the same way as the EAP, in theory this is accessible, but it often isn’t and the usage of mental health services can still be low.
It’s still a reactive solution and it’s there for when people are already struggling or experiencing something they cannot cope with.
From as far as we can see, it seems like you can guarantee a little bit more quality here by purchasing the insurance from a trusted brand, unlike the EAP market which seems to be far more diversified and fragmented.
We hear of many businesses who use Vitality insurance – and that seems to be the best of the bunch.
It’s hard to judge impact again, because this often occurs very distant to the workplace. Private Medical does have a certain brand je ne sais qui – it’s great for employer brand and shows real holistic support to employees, and of course it takes care of physical as well as mental health.
It makes for a very attractive proposition for prospective candidates looking at their next move.
#3 Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)
What it is: Like Physical First Aid, MHFA teaches the very basics someone needs to know in order to spot the signs of poor mental health
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) has exploded in the last few years with thousands of trainers cropping up and thousands more becoming “Mental health first aiders” in their workplaces.
We’ve tried the course ourselves and it’s a great entry-level education into mental health. From what we know, the courses can be a bit hit and miss depending on the trainer you get and the trainers are all just reading from the same content pack, but it’s a fantastic start.
It also has positive cultural ramifications across a business, because the business essentially advocates a group of people as “safe” people to talk to about mental health.
However, this is where we’re personally concerned with MHFA as we’re not convinced it adequately trains people with the appropriate skills to hold conversations around mental health.
If people had done a first aid course, you wouldn’t want people with back pain approaching them for a chat.
MH first aiders have to have really strong boundaries and a lot of empathy, and I’m not sure the course provides that.
On its own MHFA isn’t enough and can often come across as a tick box exercise, yet alongside a well established EAP, insurance or coaching and therapy then I think you’ve got a stellar mental health strategy on your hands.
This is also one of the most commonly used things for manager training – equipping managers with some basic knowledge on mental health issues.
#4 Mental Health Coaching
What it is: A confidential space between coach and coachee, where both problems and goals can be discussed
Disclaimer from the outset: we’re a coaching business that provides Sanctus Coaches to businesses, but we’ve tried to stay as impartial as possible.
As mental health solutions go, coaching, therapy and other talking solutions are definitely on the pricier side as you’re being granted dedicated 1-2-1 time with a qualified professional. But, because of that, we firmly believe that coaching is one of the most impactful solutions available. It gives people a real, physical space to actively learn more about themselves and their mental health needs, and tangibly work on these, with progress often being able to be made after only one session.
The coach is also there to hold individuals accountable and act as a sounding board, meaning they aren’t alone in their mental health journey.
One drawback to coaching is that it’s not a space where people can work on deeply entrenched mental health issues, but it’s still a space where they can lightly explore these.
The coaching industry is very enigmatic; it lacks regulation and is full of an array of different types of coaching (for example executive coaching and life coaching).
This can make it a confusing journey for some, and so it’s important that the right, fully-qualified coach is chosen, otherwise safety can be at risk.
What it is: Like coaching, this provides a confidential space between counsellor and client. The difference here is that, generally speaking, therapy focuses on problems/issues rather than development
Extremely similar to coaching, and for that reason has a similar score. Therapy is currently only pitched at those who want to work on mental health issues.
For that reason, it can exclude those who sit elsewhere on the mental health spectrum, meaning accessibility is lower and has less of an impact on the wider business. That being said, the impact on an individual (for those who use it) can often be life-changing.
While the therapy market is much better regulated than the coaching market, there are still numerous types of therapies and therapists available, and it can be another desperately difficult and confusing journey for those trying to find the right person.
This is even harder for a business trying to select the right therapist, and therapy is such an individual experience, more so than coaching.
Still, the impact that it can have on those who are really struggling is incomparable to anything else.
#6 Mental health content-based apps
What it is: Downloadable apps that have different types of accessible content on them. That could be meditation series, or it could be articles and podcasts on certain topics like sleep or anxiety.
A highly accessible solution given that you only really need a mobile to access apps. Apps are generally on the less expensive side, and as they are software-based and because of economies of scale, can often be offered at discounts or cheaper prices for the more employees you have (they generally work on a per-head model).
While basically all of your business can use them, we believe the impact can generally be quite low, depending on the app.
It can be difficult for someone to truly understand, and work on, their mental health needs through digestible content or mindfulness meditation, although these can be a great addition to someone’s toolkit.
There are no physical relationships involved, and there is also a question raised around hacking and data stored on phones when it comes to safety.
#7 Mental health talking-based apps
What it is: Like therapy and coaching, but done over text on the phone.
There are often several barriers in place for people wanting to seek support from a professional, and one of the biggest is that they have to physically travel to meet someone face-to-face.
Therefore, doing this over an app really helps to make mental health more accessible to people. And, as with content-based apps, they’re easily accessible by the whole company.
That being said, it removes the connection and warmth that comes from physically speaking to someone, and that’s something that can often be needed to make real progress in talking-based solutions.
Alongside this, generally the model for these businesses relies on less messages being sent, which can sometimes put pressure on individuals to unnecessarily condense their mental health journey down into character-limiting messages.
#8 One-off mental health talks / lunch-and-learns
What it is: A talk or interactive learning session from a speaker. These can range in topics, length and cost
These can be very impactful, but that impact often won’t last in its own right. They’re a great thing to do, but they need to be bolted on to a wider and more long-term mental health strategy.
Accessibility remains high, although it’s rare that everyone will be able to attend the time slot on offer. Affordability can vary wildly, as some speakers will charge £1000s for an hour slot, while others will provide more value for drastically less in fees.
In our experience, the safety can also vary wildly, depending on how the tone is set by a speaker. If a speaker delivers a talk on mental health but the business culture isn’t supportive of it, then it’s not a safe environment.
If the business has nothing else in place, it can be a bit like dangling a carrot in someone’s face and saying; “here’s what you could have!” If a company just brings in a speaker for World Mental Health Day and does nothing else, it can come across a little disingenuous, or a good start – depending on the intention.
But don’t get us wrong – there are some incredible speakers out there, and for many, a one-hour talk can spark life-changing action.
Just to reiterate, the above is based on our own personal experiences from four years spent working on our own mental health and from talking to thousands of businesses. We’re not gurus and we’re not consultants either, yet we do have an opinion that we feel is rooted in knowledge.
We hope this provides some guidance and information on what’s available, and what kind of results you can expect 🙂