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Can Tech Help Manage Mental Health in the Workplace?

Corporate Wellness Magazine

A human being is only as healthy as his or her mind is, and mental illness is a rather silent, slowly developing health problem that significantly reduces employee health and productivity. Employers are gradually beginning to see how vital managing employee mental health in the workplace is.

Mental illness is one of the top causes of productivity loss in the workplace. Mental illness costs the US economy over $51 billion in absenteeism from work and $26 billion in direct cost of treatment.

Depression and anxiety disorders are the commonest mental health disorders and are often diagnosed simultaneously. Both account for an annual global cost of $ 2.5 trillion and this figure is expected to rise to $6 billion in 2030.

Depression has significant negative effects on employee workplace performance, contributing to presenteeism and absenteeism.

This loss of workplace performance often results from some of the symptoms and complications of these mental health problems including reduced attention span, fatigue, poor decision making and time management abilities, and distorted communication. According to the US Center for Workplace of Mental Health, workplace depression costs employers $44 billion annually.

Employers have begun to see that mental health problems are costly to ignore and it has become imperative for them to take steps in improving this key area of employee health. As revealed in a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), every $1 invested into the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders results in a return of $4 in improved employee health and work performance.

Steps to Promote Better Employee Mental Health

Like most other medical conditions, mental illness can be effectively managed to eliminate the symptoms or reduce its effects on the individual, and employers can take certain significant steps in improving employee mental health.

Awareness

Employers should ensure employees are educated about mental health problems and encourage those affected to seek help. Mental health education should be incorporated into health information strategies.

Content about depression and other mental health problems can be included in company newsletters, intranet, and other platforms through which employees communicate.

Initiatives like Right Direction, jointly formed by Employer Health and the US Center for Workplace of Mental Health, could be engaged to bring discussions about mental health issues and provide valuable resources to promote awareness and early recognition of symptoms. In the long run, this will reduce the stigma associated with these conditions.

Improve Work Conditions

Harsh work conditions are often the main triggers or contributing factors to poor employee mental health and there are a lot of changes employers can make to promote better mental health.

Factors which reduce workplace stress, such as flexible work hours, healthy meal plans, equipment upgrades, and provision of professional assistance for those in need, should be promoted.

Assistance

Employers should promote employee health assistance programs to provide resources and tools to keep employees mentally and physically healthy.

Employee insurance plans should also cover for mental health problems. This promotes a sense of inclusivity and reduces the stigma associated with these conditions. Employers may inform these insurance companies of a need for regular review and screening of all employees for depression and other major mental health issues.

Employers can spot an imminent mental health problem before it becomes full-blown through routine checks in forms of surveys and employee self-assessment. The earlier these conditions are detected, the easier they are to treat.

How Technology can help Improve Mental Health

Technology can be used to support managerial best practices to resolve mental health issues in the workplace.

Employers are developing a huge interest in incorporating digital health strategies to promote employer mental health. According to HR Technologists, over $16 billion has been invested into more than 800 digital health companies between 2014 and 2017.

For example, virtual reality (VR) technology which was previously employed by psychotherapists is now been used in corporate human resources units.

Companies in Spain have begun to sign up to Psious, a technology which uses VR and augmented reality (AR) to help solve mental health issues ranging from anxiety disorders to phobias.

“We initially launched Psious to provide exposure therapy; you can use AR to show spiders to someone who is afraid of them, for example, without having to show them real ones or rely on imagination,” says Xavier Palomer, the chief executive officer of the tech company.

Clevr is another VR tech innovation created to treat social phobias and provide guided meditation via virtual reality.

A number of apps and online services have launched to provide workers with effective solutions for their mental and physical health. One of these is Tictrac which works by providing users with information about their lifestyle and physical health. Such information includes the number of steps taken or the number of hours slept in a day. This data, which are collected by the app from devices such as Fitbits and Runkeepers, can be used by the user or their physicians to create strategies for better health.

Other apps have been specially designed to meet workplace needs. One of these is Remente, a goal-setting app which was created by its CEO David Brudö to solve his own work-related stress.

The app provides self-help information and offers advice and guidance based on cognitive behavioral therapy. In addition, it helps users to assess their mood, set goals for the day, and set longer-term goals. This, Brudo says, leads to better employee work-life balance, work performance, and boosts employee happiness.

Innovations in wearable technologies that help workers with anxiety, bipolar disorders, and depression have gained popularity in workplace wellness programs. AffecTech is one of such projects that create wearable devices to help employees improve their mental health.

Justworks, a platform which provides employers with HR resources and payroll services, has incorporated round-the-clock mental health counseling services with certified therapists for employees. This is similar to what is offered on Ginger.io which connects workers to licensed professionals.

While many tech models have been built to provide solutions to employee mental health issues, many have expressed concern about possible dangers of this trend. In a report by The Guardian, a senior lecturer in occupational psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, Sarah Crozier says she fears that these smartphone technologies may replace helpful social support such as spending time with loved ones.

As tech companies create more ways for improving the health of users through innovative strategies and platforms, employees can now manage mental health issues in a more personalized way. However, employees and employers are advised to strike a balance in their use of technology to promote mental health to avoid overdependence on technology at the expense of human support.

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