The conversation about the prevalence of mental health and wellbeing has grown substantially over the past few years. It is no surprise since we know that 1 in 4 people in the general population and 1 in 6 in the workforce suffer from a mental health condition. In 2016/2017 there were 526,000 reports of work-related stress, anxiety, or depression. The total days lost as a result of mental health issues was 12.5 million days. These are all statistics provided by the HSE in their annual work-related stress report and they are indicative of a huge problem for both employers and their employers.
Within this blog, we will explore the background to these issues and discuss the possibility of digital health technology being the means by which to bring down the barriers to communication that seemingly exist between employer and employee.
Mental health within corporate companies
We know that both employers and employees face a huge challenge to improve in this area due to a culture of fear and mistrust. In reality one of the key blockers to positive change has been the stigma surrounding mental health. Employees have been concerned that by admitting a problem with their mental health, they will face negative consequences in the workplace such as being sidelined for promotion, not selected to work on high impact projects, and even worse being placed at the top of the list for redundancies. Therefore they have been more likely to conceal potential issues they are experiencing. The result is that treatment is delayed and problems can escalate which would not be the case if firstly people were to speak up, and secondly, employers were better skilled at identifying issues early on.
The UK has however made significant progress in prompting conversations through a number of channels. Key developments include:
- Publication of Business in the Community’s National Employee Mental Wellbeing Survey and Mental Health toolkit for employers in late 2016;
- The Prime Minister’s January 2017 announcement of an independent report on companies’ actions to support mental health;
- Mind’s first Workplace Wellbeing Index.
These initiatives are a great step forward in opening channels of communication and removing the fear of admitting to mental health issues. However, this type of organic change will inevitably take a considerable amount of time to filter into real improvements in the statistics. So how can we make a step change? Perhaps digital health technologies are the answer.
How digital health could improve mental health
Digital health covers a wide range of technology solutions such as mobile apps, and a range of monitors. From a mental health perspective, the main innovations have been wearable devices that monitor mental health and flag concerning symptoms. They typically track physiological states such as heart rate, breathing patterns, and skin temperature to assess the individual’s mental state. They are usually linked to a mobile app so that the user can manually input data and also get advice and support such as cognitive behavioural therapy and prompts to meditate.
Axa conducted a survey of 2000 adults about their attitudes related to mental health in the workplace. They found that 57% of the British workforce would be willing to wear a device to track their mental health during working hours on the basis that it was provided free of charge. Of those who said they could imagine wearing a device, 58% said they would be comfortable to share the data with their employer. This is significant as it marks a willingness by a large proportion of employees to be transparent about their mental health at an early stage – when intervention may be more effective.
What does this mean?
Mental health is a huge issue for both employees and employers. Interestingly digital health technology seems to be a way to reduce the stigma and barriers to communication. The research has shown that there is a substantial opportunity here as at present since 93% of respondents said they are not provided with any type of health technology by their employer. Pair that with over half of respondents saying they would be open to a wearable mental health monitor, this is likely to become a key consideration for corporates in the very near future.