Manulife establishes dedicated mental health team

By Alain Thériault | May 13 2014 03:01PM

On April 24, Manulife Financial created a national team of mental health specialists to support its group insurance clients and their employees who struggle with mental health issues. The team aims to fill gaps in disability management and in the support treatment that employees receive.

The Manulife team will help group insurance disability case managers deal with claims related to mental health. In taking this step, the insurer wants to reduce the effect that mental health issues have on plan costs, and ultimately, the length of disability leave.

“The employee must get the treatment he needs. We noticed some deficiencies in groups in this area. The person who is suffering may take a long time before seeing a specialist, sometimes as long as a year. We believe that interventions should be better targeted and faster. They must come to terms with the situation the employee is facing very early, and focus on his mental health,” commented Kathy McIlwham, vice-president of group life and disability at Manulife Financial, in an interview with, a sister publication of The Insurance and Investment Journal.

The stakes are high, she says. “According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, 500,000 Canadians miss work every day due to mental illness, costing the Canadian economy $51 billion annually,” notes McIlwham. These problems are the leading cause of long term disability claims in group insurance for Manulife. The World Health Organization reports that mental health claims account for an average of 30 per cent of all short and long term disability claims.

Extensive experience

Already active on a national level, the team must hire additional staff before being fully operational in all regions of the country, adds Mcllwham. This process should be completed by the end of May.” We are bringing people with a lot of depth into the team. All members must have extensive experience with mental health issues,” she explains. McIlwham is not yet able to specify how many members the team will have eventually.

Georgia Pomaki is responsible for leading the team. With a PhD in occupational mental health and a Masters in Clinical Psychology, Pomaki also holds the Certified Disability Management Professional (CDMP) designation. Her field experience spans more than 10 years, including cognitive behavioural therapy and family therapy in a clinical setting. The course she is currently teaching focuses on mental health and disability management.

Pomaki participated in a pilot project started last year and the results were conclusive enough that the insurer decided to establish the team. At the end of the first year, Manulife saw a decrease in claim durations and recurrences. Mcllwham attributes this success to the supervision, mentoring, and skill of the specialists who took part in the project. The experience has led, she says, to better results for both claimants and employers.

Manulife is also following in the footsteps of companies like Great-West Life, Bell Canada, and Morneau Shepell in adopting the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. The insurer will implement the standards in stages during the three-year pilot project.

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