Employers and workplace employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are more essential than ever in providing mental health support, new figures suggest.
A survey of Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA UK) members indicates that 75% of the workforce now have EAP services available to them, compared to just 15% in 2003.
Holding it together: UK mental wellbeing and the role of Employee Assistance Programmes found that around 640,250 workers contacted their EAP from January 2022 and January 2023, of which more than two-thirds (68%) were offered counselling due to mental health concerns. EAPs provided more than 1.375 million of the required counselling sessions.
Project lead and former EAPA UK chair Eugene Farrell said: “EAPs are now a hugely valuable resource to employers and employees. Anecdotally, EAP providers know that GPs are increasingly encouraging patients with mental health concerns to contact their EAP if they have one. As the report data shows, this also means EAPs are being treated as a frontline emergency service and involved with complex, long-term cases of mental illness.”
According to the EAPA, the figures show that workplace EAPs are now being used as “a frontline emergency service” which are relied upon more than NHS services.
Karl Bennett, current EAPA UK chair, said: “EAPs have become a pillar of mental health provision for the UK, providing rapid access to professional support for the majority of the workforce, and delivering value-for-money for employers. The question now is what happens in the next 20 years. How will EAPs continue to take on an ever-increasing mental health role as society’s demands grow?”
Of the EAP counselling cases, around 1.7% – or 10,000 lives – involved a ‘red flag’, indicating an immediate and serious risk of suicide. Some EAP providers reported more than 3% of red flag cases.
Commenting on the findings, Sir Cary Cooper CBE, 50th anniversary professor of organisational Psychology and health at the ALLIANCE Manchester Business School, said: “Most worrying about the EAPA UK figures is the number of employees with severe depression, in crisis situations, now having to turn to their EAP. It’s critical that the Government, the NHS and other healthcare stakeholders, understand the role the EAP industry has been playing in supporting mental health, providing immediate access to counselling and professional assessment for millions of people every year. So not a matter of an employee benefit affecting the few, but a significant role in dealing with an urgent and long-term issue for society.”
He believes that more discussion is needed around how else EAPs can help, suggesting there could be a need for extensions to their services to “ensure there’s provision for longer-term counselling programmes through to recovery”.
He added: “The EAP sector has coped this far with the giant swell of demand and more serious cases, through training and recruitment initiatives, more online services and apps. But neither employers nor the UK as a whole can afford to see EAPs become overwhelmed.”