Nearly 200 million people around the world are feeling more stressed, and the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened this problem. Gallup’s 2020 Negative Experience Index revealed that 40% of respondents experienced an elevated level of stress compared to the previous 15 years, and 2021 certainly didn’t do us any favors. Employers know that COVID has raised the levels of stress, anxiety, social isolation, and depression across the globe. With many people continuing to social distance by avoiding large gatherings that could infect them with new coronavirus variants, stress levels are only amplified. In addition, the ups and downs of COVID infection rates and dashed hopes of wanting to see extended family and friends have left people feeling down. Another leading cause of stress is weighing whether work environments are safe enough to warrant a full return to the office as opposed to working remotely or with a hybrid schedule as businesses contemplate how they can meet objectives while accounting for the overall health needs of employees.
Even before COVID-19 spread worldwide in 2020, experts noted a global mental health crisis was at hand. While there’s often a societal stigma attached to mental health conditions, not addressing these issues only exacerbates the problem as people lose focus, productivity, and even financial security while struggling. The United Nations revealed that about 1 in 4 people globally would deal with a mental health issue during their lifetime and, for a multitude of reasons, many will do nothing about it. In fact, more than half of American adults with a mental illness, more than 27 million people, do not pursue treatment, as revealed by a recent report from Mental Health America.
As stress and anxiety levels rise in tandem with evolving consumer acceptance of treatment options, a silver lining emerges. New digital tools that aim to transform mental health treatment are coming to market. Meditation and calming programs improve everyday mindfulness, in which people observe their thoughts and emotions without judgment. More digital cognitive behavioral therapy solutions are also available to help with stress, anxiety, and sleep issues.
Employers now have the opportunity to offer more telehealth and telepsychiatry solutions through health insurance policies that will help combat stress, anxiety, and social isolation. Online health providers are partnering with health plans and employers to deliver virtual care services that employees can now incorporate into their daily routines at no additional expense beyond their monthly premium.
Digital front doors empower employees to access health and wellness services easily and discreetly through smartphones, tablets, and other connected devices. One major advantage of such a digital front door is a curated network of lifestyle and health improvement programs that directly provide the consumer with a range of options and programs. At the touch of a button, members can be strategically matched with solutions that will work best for them, delivering meaningful mental health improvement.
Amid a sharp increase in demand for mental health support, businesses that strengthen their mental health offerings with best-in-class programs - whether that includes telehealth or in-person mental health services - will be well equipped to support the diverse needs of their employees. Here are some technological advancements one should look for:
The Power of Algorithms
Today, web portals use algorithms on the back end to match doctors, patients, payers, and physicians with community organizations and digital tools that provide evidence-based online mental health coaching. Companies that operate these web portals carefully vet providers of mental health tools, enabling them to offer these services at a low cost. Digital tools can help people with their mental health needs and serve as the connective tissue between various programs to aid patients in their overall health journey. Payers and providers use services that incorporate algorithms to match patients to mental health programs that are the best fit for their needs. Mental health professionals use algorithms to collect data for human resources teams to improve employee wellness offerings, including evidence-based mindfulness programs that offer both live and on-demand sessions. In addition, machine learning algorithms from social media messages can even be used to treat psychiatric illnesses.
Virtual Mental Health
On-demand virtual mental health and evidence-based mindfulness applications are transforming access to cognitive treatment. Some tools offer chatbots and gamified user exercises as part of employee mental health treatment. According to a 2020 Veterans Administrations study, video tele-psychotherapy works well either in person or in a virtual setting for treating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Online treatment can be synchronous with live video or asynchronous, consisting of text messages with coaches. Coaches are available around the clock to provide counseling on life’s challenges, and psychiatrists can prescribe medication during virtual mental health visits.
Brain-sensing earbuds and fitness trackers can reduce stress and improve well-being. Earbuds have electrodes that measure electrical activity in the brain and also monitor the amount of stress and distraction. In addition, fitness trackers connect to health apps to let patients track their steps, sleep patterns, and even how much time they spend at their desks. Some apps also let people track their moods over time, helping them better understand and control stressors.
A Holistic User Experience
Holistic wellness for the workforce is not just a lofty goal – employees can incorporate digital health care solutions into their own benefits access system. Unified member experiences allow users to access apps for mindfulness, meditation, and mental training, as well as other tools to fight social isolation and treat addictions through programs like smoking cessation. Mindfulness sessions can also help people deal with mental and behavioral issues caused by stressful health conditions such as cancer or diabetes. Holistic experiences encompass both digital and in-person mental health care. Relying on virtual and in-person classes and peer groups will help guide people to better mental health solutions. Providing this flexibility can transform health care and provide access to people in remote and rural areas or reach patients with limited mobility. In the end, enhancing the employee experience through a unified user experience via easy-to-use mindfulness, mental, and physical health apps will keep workers productive, more confident, and happier.
Ted Hong is the Chief Engagement Officer for Solera Health. In his role, he oversees all the outbound marketing and communications efforts for the company. Prior to Solera, he was President of HelloTech, served as Co-Founder of Dropoff, and as Chief Marketing Officer at Fandango. Hong holds a B.A. in Political Economy from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.