when the University of Calgary shifted from an on-site to a telephonic model, utilisation nearly doubled. Virtual counselling services that connect workers with specialists – either international or back home – off er another promising avenue for expats facing mental health challenges.

Connecting expats with a counsellor from their home country or a familiar culture can help to address the cultural or language barriers that are known to undermine mental wellbeing when living overseas. T e ability to connect virtually also removes the need to travel to an appointment, something which is often diffi cult for busy, on-the-go executives. Aetna International’s own virtual health service, vHealth, has been well-received by expats around the world, who report similar benefi ts. In our What is Wellness? Expat Family Health & Wellness Survey 2018, expats noted the usefulness of the service for connecting with a health professional

10 | International Travel & Health Insurance Journal

Virtual counselling services that connect workers with specialists … offer another promising avenue for expats facing mental health challenges

in their home country, especially when too busy or remotely located to travel to an appointment. T ey also mentioned how the virtual health service was particularly useful for discussing mental health issues, due to it being ‘less embarrassing’. In some ways, virtual counselling is more eff ective than in-person consultation. By connecting with specialists virtually, clients may be more open when they are not in the same location as the counsellor. While more research should be done on the effi cacy of virtual counselling, we envision a day when employers off er, and insurers pay for, this service for their overseas workers.

The economic imperative With awareness levels of wellbeing issues on the rise and a reduction in social stigma around mental health, the impact of poor mental health on productivity in the workplace is now widely acknowledged. Towers Watson’s Global Benefi ts Attitudes 2014 survey drew a direct connection between stress and workplace disengagement. Among employees who were experiencing high levels of stress, 57 per cent reported feeling disengaged at work. Disengagement also led to absenteeism, with highly stressed employees taking 77-per-cent more sick days than their low-stress colleagues. And presenteeism – attending work when unwell and unproductive – was 50-per-cent higher for highly stressed employees.

T e need to address the severe economic cost to businesses and national economies of poor mental health is climbing the agenda. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide, with the number of people living with the illness increasing by more than 18 per cent between 2005 and 2015. In this context, off ering EAPs is not only positive for workers, but it is also essential for employers in ensuring long-term sustainability and profi tability. ■


David Healy is CEO at Aetna International, EMEA, based at Aetna International’s regional headquarters

in the United Arab Emirates.David works closely with Aetna’s strategic partners, governments and health offi cials to provide empowering health management solutions across the region. He has a wealth of knowledge, with over 30 years of experience in the international insurance and employee benefi ts i ndustries.

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