Early intervention can improve mental health conditions, research finds

Poor mental health can be improved by early intervention schemes, longitudinal research has shown.

Data collected over a five-year period revealed that eight in 10 employees who received early intervention support from RedArc’s nurses and other occupational health professionals experienced an improvement in their mental health symptoms.

In particular, patient health screening questionnaires used for monitoring, diagnosing and measuring the severity of depression (PHQ9) and anxiety (GAD7) revealed a 50 per cent score reduction on average, whilst three-quarters of employees reported a return to “normal” mood levels within three to four months.

Commenting on the findings, Tim Heard, an Occupational Psychologist (BSc Hons, Msc Occ Psych) at Healthcare RM said that although the levels of improvement could either be due to the intervention or a result of “normal recovery,” evidence indicates that it is “beneficial” to intervene before ill-health sets in.

“Emotional health is closely linked with how we look after ourselves in terms of diet, exercise and healthy behaviours like attendance at work and active family and social lives,” he added.

According to PHQ9 scores, a 0-4 score indicates no depression, 5-9 indicates mild depression and scores up to 20-27 indicates severe depression. With the GAD7 scoring system, a 5 score indicates mild anxiety, a 10 score indicates moderate anxiety whilst a score of 15 or above suggests severe anxiety.

Christine Husbands, managing director at RedArc described early intervention as “key” in supporting employees with mental health conditions but warned that the availability of NHS mental health support services could create “additional levels” of stress and risk the condition escalating.

Yet early intervention services such group risk or health insurance products as well as employee assistance programmes offering third-party support services tended to be “under-utilised” because they were not “fully understood” by staff, she said.

Husbands called on employers to take steps to “nip existing conditions in the bud” whilst providing preventative measures before an employee develops a more serious disorder.

She added: “It has been widely acknowledged that the NHS has significant shortcomings in the timely treatment of mental health conditions, and so more employees will be turning to their employer for help in ensuring a return to productivity and wellbeing.”

But Healthcare RM’s Heard warned that EAP services which offer counselling did not always offer the “right interventions” to manage the conditions identified.

“Evidence shows that anxiety and depression respond well to psychological therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy - therefore we would recommend that these support services include a strong CBT offering,” he said.

“EAPs and insurance products fail to offer Health and Wellbeing interventions that look to address the causative / contributory factors to people’s mental health problems.   There is growing evidence that healthy behaviours such as increased exercise and good nutrition are hugely beneficial to not only our mental health, but to our overall health.  True early intervention schemes should look to address these as a priority rather than focusing on reactive medical interventions.”

Earlier this month, the Institute of Directors called on the government to “do more” to encourage employers to start a conversation about mental health in the workplace and provide SMEs on guidance on addressing mental health issues.

Meanwhile, Princes William and Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge have spoken candidly about mental health in a short film as part of a Heads Together campaign which aims to end the stigma around mental health.

Heard added: “It is great to see the Heads Together campaign using the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon to springboard the campaign. Not only does this reinforce the association between exercise and good mental health, it looks to end the stigma and change the conversation on mental health once and for all.”

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