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How WELL is supporting mental health in the workplace

While attitudes to mental health are changing, many Canadians personally experience mental illness or problems. And according to CAMH, by the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 have – or have had – a mental illness.

So, it’s clear that there’s a lot more work to be done. While our educational and healthcare systems are working hard to promote awareness and support for mental health, employers can also make a difference by supporting mental health in the workplace.

To create winning teams, organizations must create a culture that recognizes and empathizes with mental health challenges and provides support.

In our latest blog, we’ll examine:

  • why we need mental health support in the workplace
  • what are the essentials of a robust employee mental health program
  • how these principles guide WELL Health’s mental health support program


Why mental health support is needed in the workplace

In recent years, Canadians have started to think differently about mental health. This change has also begun to influence how Canadian employers are approaching mental health support for their teams.

In the past, team members may have been reluctant to come forward about mental health issues for fear of being stigmatized or discriminated against at work. This hesitancy and the lack of support resources have harmed organizations and employees.

For employees, a lack of support has often meant trying to continue their work while experiencing distress, distraction, or pain. In turn, this meant organizations had many of their team members that weren’t comfortable at work, leaving them less effective and able to contribute, resulting in an overall reduction in productivity. 

It’s easy to see how this doesn’t work for anyone involved.

In fact, 30% of disability claims in Canada are related to mental health problems and mental illness. Everything from time off work and lowered productivity to difficulties recruiting and retaining valuable employees all contribute to the total economic burden of mental health problems reaching $50 billion.

So, it is no surprise that employers and the government have started doing their part to change the culture surrounding mental health. The Government of Canada now outlines practices for employers, defining actions organizations can take to ensure respectful and productive environments that promote and protect mental health. And recently, Ontario has introduced a ‘disconnect’ law that aims to reinforce employee wellbeing and product by reducing burnout.

However, many organizations are looking to move beyond these fundamental processes by providing access to specific benefits and programs that further support employee mental health.

But where do employers even start?

The next section of our blog looks at the essentials of an employer-driven mental health program.


What’s the key to a comprehensive, and caring employee mental health program?

While there have been positive changes regarding mental health in the workplace, organizations are moving at different paces. And there isn’t necessarily a cookie-cutter approach available to leaders.

Certain principles can guide how organizations approach mental health support for their teams.

So, what lessons can we learn from those with experience in creating compassionate cultures and providing mental health resources and support?

As the founder of the virtual therapy platform Focus Mental Wellness, Marion Adams has experience guiding organizations through deploying their employee mental wellness programs via video, phone, and text therapy.

Here are Marion’s three essential elements of a comprehensive, and caring approach to mental health support.


Team members need to be aware of mental health programs

It may seem obvious, but this is a big challenge. Organizations need to commit to regularly communicating the mental health resources available to their team members. Leaders within every organization not only have to want to make mental health a priority, but they also need to promote it.

“It’s important to feel like leaders actually want their people to use the program, to take advantage of it,” explains Marion.  

An authentic commitment to both providing and promoting mental health programs is vital.


Your mental health program needs to be something your teams understand

This step is surprisingly difficult for many organizations and where programs can often fall short.

Especially when benefits are involved, if your program offers different levels of coverage for various therapist designations… things get confusing!

That confusion creates barriers for employees, which can stop team members from taking advantage of a powerful service. As Marion puts it, “keeping it simple is really going to help with engagement.”


Meet your team members where they are at

Whatever programs are available to team members must be convenient and promote access. For example, if you are working in an environment or industry where the workday is hectic, then providing a support service that is office hours and in-person only won’t work for all your team members.

Robust employee mental health support programs ensure straightforward and convenient access.

“The idea is to offer services that appeal to a wide range of individuals, with a diverse range of therapeutic needs and preferences,” explains Marion. This is why virtual therapy is increasing in popularity. It allows individuals to choose the time and method that works for best them.


How WELL supports better mental health in the workplace with virtual therapy

With these elements in mind, Marion and the WELL Health team worked together to create a mental health support program for WELL team members.

Launched in February 2022, the Focus Mental Wellness program provides WELL team members with a confidential and free session with Focus’ highly qualified therapists, with WELL’s extended health benefits helping to address longer-term costs.

Providing a free first session was an essential step for Shane Sabatino, Chief People Officer at WELL Health. “This is a big deal because the first session is the gateway to help for life,” explains Shane.

To promote Focus to WELL team members, Shane and Marion worked together to create “WELL March” that same year, providing unlimited free therapy to team members for the entire month.

Reducing friction, including cost, is a vital part of this WELL x Focus program.

To ensure access is convenient and confidential, team members use a booking link to arrange their free session directly through Focus. Discounted therapy rates and receipts to submit for reimbursement allow team members to leverage their benefits to continue using the service.

Using the program developed for WELL Health as a guide, Focus has developed an Employee Mental Wellness Program to help support other organizations that want to make a real impact on the mental wellness of their teams. Marion says, “we want to make mental wellness support accessible and affordable for all Canadians.


“We set out to offer the simplest, easiest way for an employer to ensure their team can get the support they need and deserve. No complex agreements, no admin fees, no long-term obligations. We want the decision to work with us to be one of the easiest decisions a business leader can make.”

 – Marion Adams, Focus Mental Wellness

A WELL Ventures Company


Moving beyond providing access to virtual therapy, the partnership between Focus and WELL’s People & Culture team also emphasizes education. The WELL People & Culture team arranges regular sessions with Focus for team members to learn tips and strategies to navigate difficulties they may face.

Creating opportunities for learning and thought transfer is a big part of the culture WELL’s People & Culture and Leadership teams are seeking to build where team members can access support and resources that promote better mental health.

“We have to continue to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. By having these learning sessions, we can continue to do that,” says Shane. 

When it comes to the success of the WELL x Focus program, Shane is proud of the work his People & Culture team has done. The usage of the Focus program and the feedback he has received has exceeded expectations.


“I know we have changed lives. I’ve had feedback from team members that use the programs. Some people have been in dark places. And now they have rays of sunshine in their life! What more could I ask for?” 

 – Shane Sabatino, Chief People Officer at WELL Health


But Shane and the rest of WELL leadership know that this is only the start of the journey, and there’s plenty more to do. The aim is to continue to make the Focus program the norm and part of the toolkit every WELL team member can access.

This commitment to providing and constantly looking to improve and expand the support for WELL team members is part of a wider goal for Shane and WELL’s leadership.

“We have to put actions behind our words. And if you look at our ESG report, we made sure that one of the key pillars of our organization is a healthy place to work,” explains Shane.  

For more detail about how WELL is committing to being a healthy place to work, read the inaugural ESG report. You can also visit Focus Mental Wellness to learn more about how you, or your organization, can benefit from virtual therapy.

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How WELL is supporting mental health in the workplace
Organizations should prioritize mental health support. Find out what WELL is doing to help our team through our program with Focus Mental Wellness.
Embracing virtual care to support mental health
While attitudes to mental health are changing, accessibility barriers and increased demand now lead many Canadians to seek virtual mental health support.