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COVID-19: Employee Assistance Programs Can Help in a Pandemic

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A big observation I’ve made over the years training employees on their mental health, is that most people are familiar that they have access to an Employee Assistance Program or EAP, but what they are not always familiar with are the varied services they offer. 

Average utilization rates for EAP’s are approximately 15%, which just shows how under utilized these programs are.  Another big reason for this under utilization is that some people don’t trust of the confidentiality of the program.  They are fearful that information they share may also be shared with their employer. 

Before I address confidentiality of these programs, I would like to share with you different EAP services that can support you and your family’s well being during this time.  I would like to note that every EAP is different and not all of them will offer the same services.  If you would like to specifically find out what services your EAP offers, information for it is generally posted on your company’s Human Resources webpage.  You can also contact someone in your HR department to help you find out more information.

  • Immediate counselling services. EAP’s are the most known for providing immediate counselling support services for trauma, grief, relationship issues, family counselling, etc.  Large EAP companies only hire trained professionals with minimum of Masters degrees in counselling who can offer in person, over the phone, or online counselling services. 
  • Financial advice. There are trained professionals to help with budgeting, dept repayment plans, or even just financial planning advice.  With many people having spouses losing their employment during this time, taking advantage of financial counselling could offer great support in establishing a budget with less income coming forward.
  • Healthy eating. With boredom comes snacking, and I’m sure most of us are already familiar with the term “Quarantine 15”.  If you’re noticing you’re struggling with constant snacking and stress eating, many EAP’s offer access to nutritionists or dieticians to help with meal planning and healthy eating habits.  I signed up for our own EAP nutrition support of “12 weeks to wellness” an online nutrition plan.
  • Legal matters. For anyone who is struggling with any kind of legal issues they can help here as well.  Impaired driving charges, child custody cases, divorce, etc. And I don’t mean to be morbid but they often offer free estate planning for many people.  Even though this is a difficult subject to talk about, being prepared always provides better mental well being over unpreparedness.
  • Work related issues. For those managers and supervisors who are having a difficult time with having conversations with their employees about being overly stressed or anxious during this time, most EAP services will offer a coaching line. Here you can get expert advice on how to talk to your employees about mental health, workplace performance, health issues, anything.  They can even help with your own stress during this time.

These are just some of the many issues that EAP can help us with.  Now to address the issue of confidentiality I would like to say that when you call an EAP most serve as a referral source where they will take your information and get a professional in one of these areas to call you back and schedule an appointment.  These professionals are bound by strict confidentiality regulations governing their profession.  Talk to any lawyer or mental health counsellor and they will tell you that they are not risking 6+ years of post secondary education and accreditations to breach confidentiality.  The only times they are allowed to break confidentiality is if there is risk of harm to self or others, in which they are obligated to tell authorities, mainly 911. I hope this provides you with some reassurance that your information is secured and will not get back to your employer.  I encourage you if you do have an EAP find out how this can benefit you and your family during this difficult time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Christine Fuda is the Mental Health First Aid Coordinator at Ontario Shores. During the pandemic, she will be blogging regularly around the impact of COVID-19 from a mental health perspective. Send your suggestions for topics to @email

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