Guest post by Martha Neary, Project Manager of One Mind PsyberGuide.
With at least 45 million American adults living with a mental health illness, and many experiencing increasing levels of stress, employers are seeking ways to provide much needed resources and support to their employees. In the world of COVID-19, where additional and unique barriers to care exist such as physical distancing measures that limit contact with providers and the balancing of new work at school schedules from home, many employers are looking to digital resources to support their workplaces and employee wellbeing. Headspace, for example, noted a 500% increase in requests from companies seeking support for their employees’ mental health since March.
Yet there is an overwhelming number of mental health technologies available, and choosing one requires an understanding of the complex landscape. Over 15,000 mental health apps are available on the app stores. Even within the category of “mental health,” different technologies support different things; for example, some may focus on one or more specific challenges (e.g. stress, depression, substance use, sleep), types of interventions (e.g. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, mindfulness, positive psychology) or users’ goals (e.g. resilience, mindfulness, or healthy habits). The platforms also vary, and include phone apps, desktop applications, websites, wearable devices, or a combination of these. Finally, the modes of interaction must also be considered – from videos and interactive tools to reading materials or text or phone interactions with coaches or therapists. When it comes to choosing a technology, there is no “one size fits all” approach, and the choice will depend on the unique needs of your workplace.
Before approaching the decision of which product to invest in, employers should take some time to reflect on objectives, as well as the characteristics and preferences of the employees. The best way to do this is by soliciting feedback from employees to learn more about what they need from a digital product. There are a number of questions to consider, for example:
- Who is your target population? For example, just employees, or spouses and dependents as well? Even within the employee population, certain demographics can be targeted, such as Gen Z workers that may be more likely to use an app.
- What do you want to achieve? Common goals include improving access to mental health care, enhancing overall wellbeing, happiness and productivity, reducing stress, or raising awareness and providing mental health education, etc.
- How will you measure success? Some potential metrics include employee feedback and satisfaction, engagement data, reduced healthcare expenditures, etc.
Beyond this important framing questions and prioritizing employee feedback, below are some additional recommendations for employers seeking to implement digital tools for mental health:
First, recognize that supporting mental health goes beyond providing access to a technology. There has to be a supportive culture in your workplace. One way to create this culture is through fostering connecting. A mental health platform in your workplace is a great tool for employees to have in their toolkit — but if they can’t speak openly about their experiences with mental health or take a mental health day, then there’s a disconnect between the resources you are providing and the culture you’re creating.
Second, don’t assume that all your employees are on a level playing field when it comes to accessing the technology you’ve chosen. Consider whether or not your actions are exacerbating the digital divide. Depending on your workplace, employees may have different levels of comfort with technology (some may be more tech-savvy than others), and access to technology may also differ. If you’re using technology to support mental health needs, think about how else you can make sure everyone has equitable access to the resources you’re providing.
Technology provides unique opportunities to support the mental health of your workplace in a scalable, cost-effective way. If you’re interested in learning more about how digital mental health tools can support your employees, see our Employer’s Guide to Digital Tools and Solutions for Mental Health, jointly developed by One Mind PsyberGuide and the Northeast Business Group on Health. The guide contains in-depth reviews of 27 different platforms for workplace mental health to allow employers to compare platforms and start to decide the best fit to meet employee needs
In today’s work from home world, digital solutions offer an important way to deliver much needed mental health services without significant cost or requirements for appointments and access. Tele-health services are up 40% in response to the pandemic and acceptance is growing. It is an important consideration and potential component of every employer’s health plan.