Storytelling About Total Mental Health By TELUS Health With Dr. Matthew Chow

Are you ready to shatter the stigma around mental health?  Strap in as we journey into the arena of mental health with our esteemed guest, Matthew Chow, a psychiatrist and the Chief Mental Health Officer at Tellus Health. Our conversation centers around their innovative product, Total Mental Health. It’s specially designed to combat the rising tide of mental health challenges in the wake of the pandemic. We delve deep into the disquieting statistics like 22% of US workers harboring a high mental health risk and the persistent, stubborn levels of elevated mental health risks post-pandemic. Listen as we unpack the cascading effects of these challenges on productivity and the unique struggles faced by working parents.

We also examine the critical need to normalize seeking assistance in regards to mental health. In our bid to shed light on employer’s role in mental well-being, Matthew shares his insights. He emphasises how organizational support can accelerate the journey back to health for employees. Dive into the intricate discourse on privacy concerns and how Tellus Health ensures a secure environment for individuals to report mental health issues fearlessly. Tune in to understand how Total Mental Health by Tellus Health is bridging the gaping chasm in mental health support and helping individuals reclaim their health.

Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.

Thanks, William

Show length: 20 minutes

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Matthew Chow
Chief Mental Health Officer TELUS Health

Dr. Chow's personal mission is to enable people to make their highest and best possible contribution to their communities. This aligns with TELUS Health's focus on total wellbeing: physical, mental, and financial. Dr. Chow and his colleagues weave together 'high touch' and 'high tech'---a global team of compassionate human beings empowered by digital technologies--- to create remarkable wellbeing experiences for people worldwide.


Storytelling About Total Mental Health By TELUS Health With Dr. Matthew Chow

William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup, and you are listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today we have Matthew on, and he’s from TELUS, but we’re going to be talking about a product or an offering that they have now called Total Mental Health by TELUS. We’ll learn all about that today. Matthew, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and TELUS, or what you do at TELUS, and we’ll talk a little bit about the Total Mental

Dr. Matthew Chow: Health product. It’s fantastic to be with you today. So my name is Matt. I am a psychiatrist, so a medical specialist in mental health, and I’m the chief mental health officer of TELUS Health. We are one of the largest healthcare companies in the world, and in fact, we’re the largest global Employee assistance program provider in the world proudly having a footprint in the U. S. since 1987 covering the lives of some 15 and a half million people and [00:01:00] 3, 400 clients and counting and today I’m proud to talk a little bit more about our recent launch of Total Mental Health in the U. S.,

William Tincup: Tell us, I’m familiar with TELUS’s brand because of I think insurance that I’ve had in the past had you always in the AP, so I’m familiar with the brand, but and I’m sure people, it’s a brand that kind of sticks with you, so I’m sure most people have interacted with it at some form in their career or someplace.

Tell us a little bit about how Total Mental Health kind of came to be, how the product

Dr. Matthew Chow: came to be. Yeah, so we recognized that there were some gaps in the mental health and being and employee assistance program spaces in the U. S. Certainly, coming out of the pandemic, what we saw is that there has been just an explosion of mental health difficulties that people are experiencing.

And in fact, the mental health index that we publish on a regular basic basis shows that, around 22% of workers in the U. S. have a high mental health [00:02:00] risk. 42% have a moderate mental health risk. And these are persistently elevated levels that have that have Stubbornly stayed high since the pandemic, and so we recognized that clearly what was out there in the market, clearly, the services and supports that people are receiving are not enough, and that there was a space to, to get in there and to help folks out and that was the genesis of Total Mental Health.


William Tincup: The difficulties, let’s say post pandemic, as if we’re totally out of it. Anyhow outside of the, outside, the 2000, 2000 2020 and 21 version of COVID, what are the difficulties that kind of sprung to life or maybe some of the things that pre pandemic weren’t as visible. And then after the pandemic they became obviously more visible.

Dr. Matthew Chow: Yeah, there’s a couple of areas I can certainly comment with respect to that. Mental health negatively impacting people’s work productivity, so one in five workers are [00:03:00] currently reporting that their mental health personally is negatively impacting their productivity at work And 48% of workers in the management of companies and enterprises sector, just as an example of one specific sector, are reporting that mental health is having a negative impact on productivity, 29% in the technology sector, 28% in the utilities, construction and administrative support services and these, again, are all elevated off of their baseline from before the pandemic.

And then we’re also seeing, employees with kids. Having a lower mental health score compared to employees without children, and so we speculate about the impact of the pandemic and the conditions of the pandemic, school closures and such on employees with families and then just, other factors in terms of, substance use people relying on maladaptive coping strategies, those are all elevated and continue to be elevated since the, what I could call the crisis phase of the pandemic.[00:04:00]

William Tincup: One of the things I wanted to ask you about is as people become I guess a bit more vocal or the mental health that they’re dealing with is less taboo, right? So like pre COVID although way before COVID, I had I was diagnosed with a form of what we used to call manic depressive, but I guess it’s bipolar now, but it’s called hypomania.

It’s like a form of of where I’m in mania a whole lot, but when I’m not in mania, I’m in really dark depression, like suicide or suicidal thoughts, et cetera. And pre pandemic, I probably wouldn’t have talked too much about it. I wouldn’t have talked on a podcast about it, but during the pandemic and post pandemic.

It’s just been easier to talk with, because other people would talk about things. Other people would talk about what they’re going through. And I wanted to ask you the question about reporting. So the baselines that we have pre pandemic and in post pandemic, how do you factor in, or, as a professional, as you deal with this,[00:05:00] how do you look at like people’s openness and willingness to talk more openly about difficulties that they’re having versus maybe a time where they wouldn’t?

Dr. Matthew Chow: I’m so glad you raised this because, as a mental health professional, it is incredibly, it fills me with hope. To see so many people actually talking about their mental health and realizing that there is no health without mental health, and, it’s just, it’s, it seems like such a, like a simple thing to say, but for the longest time, it was actually tremendously difficult as you elaborated on yourself to, to talk about mental health, to disclose, mental health conditions, especially to your employer even to, to people’s own families and so there was a tremendous stress and pressure on people to keep a lid on it.

On mental health and well being issues, even though we know now that these have such a tremendous impact on people now, certainly a part of what we’re [00:06:00] seeing, these elevated mental health risks these elevated patterns of mental health conditions and distress.

Some of that can be attributed to the fact that people are just more willing to talk about it and report it. Absolutely. I think that’s a part of that trend. But I think there’s also a part of this trend that is due to, the pandemic conditions and the response to the pandemic that, that is, that goes beyond simply.

Increased reporting by people, right? In other words, it’s quote unquote. It’s real. Yeah, and certainly, when you look at really hard data on things like substance use, for example, right? Because substance use, we can measure that we can measure, how much alcohol people are using, we can measure how much drugs people are using, how much people are buying, how much they’re consuming.

And all of those show that Trends that are elevated compared to their pre pandemic baseline or norms, and this is more than just, reporting people are clearly [00:07:00] turning to these substances, both legal and illicit. To help cope with the distress they’re experiencing, and that all of that leads back to, TELUS Health and Total Mental Health and why we’re doing this, is that we’re clearly seeing something that is, that is impacting the workforce clearly there’s a gap here, and we want to address that gap by offering, something novel.

Which is comprehensive mental health support, personalized mental health support so that people can get back to their best possible selves and certainly that would, that will impact them at work and improve their productivity. But even more than that, it just, it it restores them to health and it restores them to their communities and to their families and to their loved ones, which is also tremendously important.

William Tincup: The self reporting part of that is probably still a barrier for a lot of folks, for some reason especially with the EAP our health insurance also being managed by HR. It’d be different, [00:08:00] I think, if these things weren’t managed by the same group of people. Yeah,

Dr. Matthew Chow: We hear about those concerns, and something that TELUS has done all along, again, we have a pretty long track record, decades of experience in this area, is We really think carefully about the privacy of people’s information.

And we treat it with the utmost respect. And that extends to the need for people that are reporting mental health issues to have privacy. So that information is not shared beyond the, the people that absolutely need to know and those people that need to know would be, care providers, care practitioners, healthcare professionals that are working with them, people that might be involved in the immediate management of that care journey.

But that’s where it stops. And so something that stands out about our program is that, we make sure that for example, when we help out our clients with data around, let’s say the use of mental health resources with understanding the mental health of their workforce, we’re sharing that [00:09:00] in aggregate.

We’re not sharing, the personal healthcare and sensitive healthcare information of individual employees. What we’re sharing is aggregate data that is actionable by an employer, actionable by a client, but that ultimately protects the privacy of those individuals. And that, creates the confidence.

For people to actually report that they’re having some difficulty and they need help.

William Tincup: It’s funny because like my brothers and I, we’re so different and we all have the same DNA, but my one of my brothers just doesn’t believe in therapy. Like at all, like conceptually or otherwise, just said, believe in it.

And I do, I think therapy should be mandatory. So I’m on the other end of the spectrum, if you will. So how does, an EAP can only do so much and I get that. Being there when someone needs you and being available, being easy to find, and obviously I love that you already touched on personalization because I was going to ask you about that anyhow, but what do you do in [00:10:00] the instance, especially for the employers that are listening, what do you do where someone just won’t, they just won’t seek help, they won’t seek professional help for

Dr. Matthew Chow: some reason?

Yeah, and certainly, I want to reinforce that having that service available, giving people the confidence that when they reach out for help, that they’re going to receive help, that they’re going to have somebody that’s capable and professional that’s going to help them is such a critical part of it.

But what you’re alluding to is that you also have to create a culture within the organization that it’s okay to reach out. It’s okay to talk about mental health. And that’s that’s something that needs to happen across the organization, and it needs to happen in the leadership as well.

I’ve worked in organizations where that wasn’t handled very well and so people clammed up, people didn’t want to talk about mental health issues or they would, they’d seek help separately. And then I’ve worked at places like at TELUS where, we openly talk about mental health issues.

We have leaders that talk about having, had therapy themselves, having had treatment [00:11:00] themselves, having benefited from help themselves. And when you hear your leaders actually talk so openly. It creates permission for everyone across the organization to get help. So I’d actually say it’s a one two punch.

It’s around having the service available and making sure that the company is thoughtful about securing the right kind of help and services for their workforce. And then it’s about the culture. Making sure the culture is in place so that it’s, I’ll use a buzzword here, psychologically safe.

For people to actually talk about these issues and then to get help.

William Tincup: It’s fascinating to me because, once you get over the first hurdle, which I think is easier these days with folks,

Dr. Matthew Chow: 100%. 100%. When I think back to med school, it was just, even, and I’d like to think I haven’t been in practice that long, though, I, it’s interesting to see my medical students and trainees now actually entering into leadership roles themselves.[00:12:00]

But, when I was in medicine, mental health was still taboo. Substance use, especially, is still taboo, like nobody wanted to talk about substance, right? That was the thing that you hid under the table, that families didn’t talk about. There’s, there’s Uncle Bob who has an issue, or, Sally, left the company suddenly and you don’t know why.

And, it, there’s performance management issues and a lot of times is actually around substances. Now we actually talk about it more. We still got some learning to do. We still got some cultural issues to overcome as a society and within our companies and workforces. But we’re certainly we’re making some progress on that front.

How do

William Tincup: you how do you, do you delineate between therapy and things that are more brain chemistry related?

Dr. Matthew Chow: Yeah, so the beauty of something like Total Mental Health is that, we make sure that personalized journey is appropriate to whatever problem people have. And so sometimes, a lot of times what people need is counseling, but people [00:13:00] need therapy, and so we help connect people to therapy, but other times we recognize that people need other types of services, they might need they might need antidepressant medication, for example, if they have a severe depression they might need some medication to help them with anxiety, if the anxiety is overwhelming and crippling them both, both at work and at home, and our navigators and advisors will help connect people To the appropriate services so that no matter what their mental health and being challenge is, they’re going to get the right kind of support.

We don’t force people to commit to a particular path regardless of what their problem is. What we do is listen to what people’s needs are and then help them get, to the right, supports and services, and in our case, we’re very strong on, the our network, our global network, we’ve got, one of the largest global networks of health professionals in the world, actually and we have a particular strength in the counseling and therapy support for people.

William Tincup: Oh, that’s [00:14:00] cool. I, I can see, especially the first time someone calls or reaches out, whatever then it becomes a game of, okay, finding out. Because you mentioned what’s said, and of course I’m thinking about what’s not said. It assumes that the person knows what’s wrong with them, right?

And in my own case, I had no idea. It’s all brain chemistry. It wasn’t… Therapy related. It was just, I was undiagnosed for a long

Dr. Matthew Chow: time, which is, which is not an unusual story. Even in the 21st century, even as much as science around mental health has advanced, like for a lot of people, what, what you’re shared about yourself, and I really appreciate you actually being open about that, is pretty, it’s still pretty pretty common these days.

It’s a journey. It’s a journey to figure out what’s going on. It’s a journey to get help.

William Tincup: It’s what I found with my situation is my wife had to be the history. She’s the one that had to be with me on the, not had to, but was on the journey with [00:15:00] me. So she actually took notes, especially once we got into medication and I was trying different things, different combinations of things.

She’s the one that actually had to talk to my doctor, because I couldn’t remember. So it was really for anybody that’s listening to this, you’re going through something like that, obviously seeking professional help, Jack but I love the way that you bring people in, it’s personalized, listen to them, and then is there, do you have a diag diagnostic that you take people through, or do you have a rubric that can kind of way find them into the right kind of situation?

Dr. Matthew Chow: Yeah, like when, so when people journey through total mental health and I like to describe it as a journey. They’re going to get a dedicated care coordinator. And you could also think of them as an advisor or a navigator or a coach that, that helps you along that journey.

They’re going to, assess the difficulty. They’re going to see, what services, would make the most sense in your situation. And then here’s the most critical part. They’re going to be with you as you [00:16:00] along this journey to help make sure that you get to the right place. And that is so important because especially when we’re vulnerable, especially when we are, being affected by mental health challenges it’s really hard to keep things straight.

It’s really hard to remember all these different appointments. It’s really hard to remember all the different historical details. Having that dedicated person there to journey alongside you, to keep things on track, to keep taking your feedback to make sure that you’re getting to the right place that is, so important.

And we put that there in place because, as an experienced company that provides these services, We’ve had a wealth of feedback from people. And this is something that is, is important to folks. It’s supported by the science and it’s support, it’s supported by the care journeys of so many millions of people that have been through our services.

Do you

William Tincup: think with folks that haven’t taken they haven’t worked with the EAP and they haven’t worked with, TELUS, or they haven’t [00:17:00] worked with a specific product like Total Mental Health, do you think there’s a stigma that’s still out there that, you know, therapies, it’s, let’s say, never ending.

It’s the end point is, or the journey might not ever be, you might never ever reach the destination. So if that makes sense.

Dr. Matthew Chow: Yeah, I’ve heard, I’ve certainly heard that concern and something that’s important about this journey, someone’s, personalized mental health and being journey, through our program, is that it has a beginning, and it also has, for the most part, a natural end, we don’t want people to be in therapy forever just like we don’t want anyone to be suffering from symptoms and concerns forever and this is not A license to have an open ended, never ending journey, because that’s not appropriate either, right?

We really are in the business of helping people and supporting people so that they can get back to their best possible lives so that employers can have a healthy [00:18:00] workforce and that means that, yeah, that these journeys… Have a natural beginning and end, and sometimes, and this is not unusual in mental health, sometimes people’s journeys have multiple steps.

People might have have an issue, they get help, they recover, and then maybe a new stressor shows up in their lives, a new situation shows up later on and then they have either a recurrence of the same problem or a new problem, and then they get some help again, and that’s, we want to normalize that for people, we want to make sure people understand that’s okay, and that’s common but yeah, we’re not we’re not in the business of having 2019 Be in therapy forever, because that’s not appropriate and it’s not necessary.

William Tincup: I love it and I love that you, ’cause I was gonna ask you about surviving in si or suffering in silence. It’s we don’t want that either. So you don’t, you, if you don’t want one in terms of feeling like you’re gonna be in therapy forever, get checked, but you also don’t wanna suffer, especially in silence forever.


Dr. Matthew Chow: Yeah, and I find, [00:19:00] and I’m someone that’s actually benefited from therapy myself as, as well, I feel comfortable sharing with you that, I’ve experienced, professional burnout and mental health challenges, and I’ve really benefited from therapy and so that was a journey for me that had a beginning and an end, and my only regret that I can express from that journey is not seeking help sooner.

Feeling ah, is this severe enough? Is it worth the therapist’s time? Is it worth the doctor’s time? And now I’m kicking myself thinking, why did I even think that? Of course it’s worth their time, right? If I had a broken leg or diabetes or cancer, I wouldn’t question whether my, it was worth the, the health professional’s time, but I think, It’s the last frontier.

Health, health, mental health and substance use. There’s still sometimes that feeling like, oh, is this severe enough? And is it worthwhile to get help? I’m here to say, yes, it is. You are worth it. Get out there and get that help. And, to the employers out there is make sure that help is available to people.

Yeah. It

William Tincup: gets, again, getting them back to their best version of themselves, the [00:20:00] faster. But we can do that the faster they can get back to productivity and feeling better. This is where interests are aligned. You, as an employer, you want them to be the best version of themselves because you want to reap the benefits of that productivity, etc.

You also want them to be living a healthy life and and enjoying life.

Dr. Matthew Chow: 100%. This is. Everybody’s interest is aligned. Go ahead. It’s a true win scenario, right? And, it’s becoming more of an imperative, let’s go looking beyond the mental health statistics, there’s just the fact that right now it’s a tight labour market.

People have options, and these days, people are looking beyond sort of monetary compensation, and they’re also looking at, how does my employer align with my values? How does my employer, help me when I’m, feeling vulnerable? What supports, are they bringing to the table?

And in a competitive environment for talented people, having the right supports for people, highlights That an employer’s values and the potential employee’s values are in alignment.

William Tincup: It’s it’s [00:21:00] interesting because as you were thinking, as you were saying that, I was thinking about how recruiters can sell this, how they can basically make sure the candidates know that this is available to them.

So having a better understanding of their EAP, but also having a better understanding of TELUS in particular in total mental health, because it’s questions that candidates ask. Before they, it’s questions that they, hey, how open are you about mental health? Like that’s a question probably six out of 10 recruiters get on a daily basis.

So it’s they didn’t be able to point to something specific. And say, hey, listen, not only do we have it covered, we’ve got a great program and this is what it does, this is how it will help you, et cetera, A hundred percent,

Dr. Matthew Chow: because it’s a concrete demonstration of those, the values.


William Tincup: those values, yeah.

Dr. Matthew Chow: Because, we talked about culture earlier. Culture is important, of course, but, beyond the talk, you also gotta walk the walk. That’s right, at one point. And, exactly, right? And having a program in place, it demonstrates to folks that, you’re not just talking about mental health and being, you’re actually acting on [00:22:00] mental health and well being.

William Tincup: Love it. Drops mic, walks off stage. Matt, thank you so much for carving out time, I know you’re crazy busy. I appreciate you coming in and talking to the audience about TELUS in general, but also specifically the Total Mental Health product that you have.

Dr. Matthew Chow: It’s been a

William Tincup: pleasure. Absolutely. And thanks everyone for listening.

Until next time.

The Use Case Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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