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Sun Life Financial Inc. has combined existing business units in its Canadian operations to create a new health division that will help tackle the lack of mental-health support in the workplace.

Canada’s second largest life insurer announced Tuesday the launch of Sun Life Health, a new business unit that combines the company’s group benefits business with Lumino Health, a website and mobile app that connects Canadians to more than 150,000 health care providers.

Dave Jones, senior vice-president of Sun Life’s group benefits, has been appointed president of Sun Life Health, and says part of the new division’s focus will be on boosting mental-health support to Canadians.

“We are 18 months into a pandemic and Canadians are still experiencing tremendous mental-health challenges,” Mr. Jones said in an interview. “Yet they do not feel that their workplaces are stepping up with the support that they need.”

Mental health has increasingly been at the forefront for Canadian insurers and they are paying closer attention to mental-health issues in the workplace. Canada’s top three life insurers – which also include Manulife Financial Corp. and Great-West Lifeco Inc.’s Canada Life – have all launched workplace strategies for mental health to provide Canadian employers with information on assisting employees in crisis.

But Sun Life Canada president Jacques Goulet says Canadian corporate leaders still aren’t doing enough and need to openly talk about mental health to ensure their employees know to how to access resources.

In a Sun Life study conducted in August with 1,500 participants, just 22 per cent said their chief executive officer or manager had talked about mental health in the past 12 months.

“Companies across the country are considering the future of work plans, but Canadians have said – loud and clear – it’s the future of the work force we must consider,” Mr. Goulet said in a statement. “If there was ever a time for Canadian leaders to renew their organization’s vision and approach to employee mental health, it’s now.”

The study also found about 37 per cent of employees said they felt unsafe talking about mental health at work, and one in 10 Canadians have left or have considered leaving a job over the lack of mental-health support.

More than 3.4 million employees and their dependents have coverage through Sun Life’s group benefits business. Mr. Jones says there has been a “big uptick” in the number of employees using their mental-health benefits since the onset of COVID-19, as well as an increased prevalence of mental-health issues among Canadians who are away from work for disability reasons.

“But we also see a huge demand for companies to do more – for example increasing a $500 coverage limit so that the people who really need these type of services can get a level of care that they truly need,” Mr. Jones added.

Sun Life Health will also provide health care services for Sun Life customers outside of its group benefits plans – including individual wealth and insurance clients, as well as those who independently access Lumino Health.

Lumino Health launched in 2018 and provides a directory of more than 150,000 practitioners – such as dentists, massage therapists, chiropractors and psychologists – that allows any user to compare provider costs, locations and ratings posted by other users.

The search engine has been used more than 11 million times. Over the course of the pandemic, mental-health professionals have become one of the top services Canadians search for in the Lumino app, surpassing massage therapy searches, which had the top spot in previous years.

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