Most companies have at least one mental health support service in place for their employees, writes Christine Husbands,but as this topic continues to rise up the corporate agenda, the important question that employers need to ask is are their mental health support services fit for purpose?  

The description – Mental Health support service – sounds great but as ever, the devil is in the detail.  

This heading can encompass a wide range of content from a helpline, digital tools, remote or face-to-face counselling and therapy, through to professional mental health support; not to mention the wide variation in the conditions/severities supported. 

Therefore, HR professionals and those advising them, need to take the time to look into the detail and be comfortable that the right support is in place for all employees, and there are no nasty surprises when employees come to make use of them. 


There are some key questions that employers need to ask when they want to ensure their mental health support is fit for purpose:


  • Prevention/early intervention. Does the service provide tools to help employees stay mentally well and offer help at an early stage before significant illness sets in? 


  • Accessibility. How easy is it for employees to access the service? Can employers refer employees? When feeling mentally unwell, reaching out for help can be extremely difficult and many don’t until they are in crisis.  


  • Limitations, What are the limits? The range and number of sessions of therapy available is a common limitation, some services offer no therapy at all. It’s important to be aware that NICE guidelines are 6 – 10 sessions of counselling1 for mild/moderate conditions.  


  • Exclusions. A – are any mental health conditions excluded? Some services specifically exclude certain conditions/severities such as Severe Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Personality Disorders. 


  • Dependants. Is the service for individual employees only or family-wide, and does the service cater for children? 


Case Study 


We were recently contacted by the managing director of a medium sized firm, who was very concerned about a member of her team. They had “Mental Health Support” in place via a Group Insurance policy so felt confident that should the need arise, an employee who needed help would get it.  

Not so. 

The employee concerned had an historic bi-polar disorder diagnosis and normally coped well but a bereavement and other difficulties were affecting him badly. Having taken the very hard step to contact the support service, once he mentioned his bi-polar diagnosis, he was turned away as the service specifically excludes several diagnosed conditions including bi-polar. 

The employee was obviously very distressed, fortunately he had a good relationship with his manager and turned to her for help. 

Fortunately for this gentleman, the managing director reached out to RedArc and we were able to provide the support he needed. Many others will not be so fortunate. 


Covering all bases 

With an extremely stretched NHS, employers would be wise to ensure that their mental health support can cater for all eventualities. 

Most mental health support services and wellbeing tools are used by many employees to very good effect, but employers should make sure that they have something in place for the few employees who have more complex, long-term needs. After all, these are the people who need help most, many of whom are being failed by mental health support services that don’t cater for them and have no other option but to face a long wait for NHS services, by which time their condition is likely to deteriorate. 

It’s understandable that employers often adopt a service without realising the extent of the limitations. But they can then risk a situation such as our case study and not all employees will be as fortunate as he was in getting the long-term help he needed. 

An effective mental health support service should be comprehensive, encompassing the full spectrum of conditions, from mild through to severe and enduring mental health conditions and offer long-term professional support for those who need it. 


Christine Husbands is the managing director of RedArc