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Maine businesses offer mental health benefits for employees

Town and Country Federal Credit Union started giving employees and their families free mental health care through a partnership with UNUM.

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Some Maine employers are prioritizing staff members' mental health to prevent stress, anxiety, burnout, and depression.

In May, Town and Country Federal Credit Union launched a free program for its employees and their family members. The program is through a partnership with UNUM

Betsy St. Pierre, the human resources manager, and Sue Gadbois found the program.

"We're were like, 'Oh my gosh, this is perfect,'" St. Pierre said. "The first word out of one of the manager's mouth was 'this is amazing.'"

There are three different support "pathways":

  • self-paced programs with exercises that help people identify symptoms and triggers of stress, and build strategies to prevent them.
  • a coaching program through an app: it combines chat-based coach and peer support, virtual workshops, and more
  • a 12-week treatment program, also through an app, for people dealing with depression, burnout, and anxiety, with support from licensed clinicians

"Mental health is on the top of the list of challenges in the day to day workplace," St. Pierre said. 

"We're all in a different place on the mental health spectrum over the course of the year. One month we're doing great, and another month we're facing more challenges," Maxime Guillaume, associate vice president of workplace wellness and general manager of UNUM Behavioral Health, said.

Maine is facing a shortage of therapists, which can make getting help for anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders more difficult.

"The struggle is, it's just difficult to find a counselor that's accepting patients and being able to get an appointment and by the time that they do, they're really needing that appointment like tomorrow, yesterday, last week," St. Pierre said.

"You lose people along the way if you think about the lifecycle of starting to seek out help which is the most important first step. If you're asking people to wait weeks and weeks, you might lose the motivation along the way," Guillaume said. "If you can compress that time period, you can help ensure that people are getting the support that they need."

More than 40% of TCFCU's 105 staff members have already signed up in less than a month.

"The first barrier I would always get to is 'I can't afford it,' And that's really sad if somebody needs help and can't afford it," St. Pierre said. "We're getting the tools in their hands that they need to manager their mental health on their own."

This project is personal for St. Pierre: she has struggled with depression herself.

"Once you go through learning and understanding something, it makes you stronger for something else. I have had some time under my belt now to add to my tools to be able to handle those things," she said. 

Now, employers are trying to erase the cost, enhance the access, and erase the stigma around mental health issues.

"We go for physicals every year. Why don't we spend time on our mental health on a regular basis?" St. Pierre said. "You need to take care of yourself so you can take care of others."

Other Maine employers are taking similar approaches.

Bangor Savings Bank offers an Employee Assistance Program that gives employees 24/7 access to a variety of free and confidential counseling, referral services, and resources to support their well-being.

"Additionally, we offer a wide range of other benefits, including but not limited to flexible and remote work arrangements for eligible employees, monthly onsite chair massages, free FitBits and FitBit Premium membership with access to hundreds of physical and mental well-being programming, 32 hours of paid volunteer time off/year, generous and flexible paid time off benefits, health and fitness classes, gym membership reimbursement, company-wide webinars featuring health and well-being topics and experts, and a robust BConnected program led by our Customer Experience team that offers programming for all employees including book clubs, trivia nights, cookie decorating classes, and more," Jaclyn Fish, vice president and community relations manager for Bangor Savings Bank, wrote.

Unity College gave its staff a three-day sustainability break for their mental health, and bonuses depending on how long they have worked for the college.

Tyler Technologies, which has four locations in Maine (Augusta, Bangor, Falmouth, and Yarmouth) has offered an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and access to behavioral health televisits for several years at little to no cost to employees. The EAP provides confidential, 24/7 assistance to employees and their household family members. They can connect with licensed counselors by phone, in-person, online, or through video. 

"The company made significant additions to its mental wellness section of the company’s intranet during the pandemic to support employees. The webpage features links to articles about creating healthier work habits and how to stay productive while working remotely, as well as additional resources like breathing exercises and apps to download for guided meditations," wrote Jennifer Kepler, senior media relations specialist with the company.

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