Technology offers an answer to solving the mental health pandemic

Too often during the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen inadequate, reactive approaches to increasingly prevalent mental health issues, particularly from businesses that in times of uncertainty perhaps have been focused more on the bottom line than the wellbeing of their employees.

This has also driven those in employment to work harder than ever before – to prove they are an asset, to help their struggling employer to make ends meet or cover the workload of furloughed staff. All the while many are doing this alone, from home, in spaces which make productivity challenging.

Traditional, reactive methods of supporting employee mental health, such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), were perhaps not enough on their own before and they certainly are not enough now. Employees at many organisations are missing the day-to-day support of their colleagues or unable to seek traditional one-to-one in person support.

A recent survey we conducted with the Rewards and Employee Benefits Association (REBA) demonstrated that almost 8 in 10 employers have received more requests for mental health support during the pandemic than before it.

Organisations can no longer operate with care models that only kick in once someone’s mental health has already begun to deteriorate. Prevention is better than cure.

Technology enables employers to offer organisation-wide access, to diagnose mental wellbeing and then tailor proactive measures. These are all factors crucial to improving workplace mental health in a way that’s scalable and cost-effective, compared to traditional one-to-one support, which is generally limited to the desperately rich or the desperately in need.

A Deloitte report into mental health and employers found that return-on-investment (ROI) for digitally enabled workplace mental health programmes, screening, feedback and referrals was far higher (a return of £11.20 for every £1 invested), than one-to-one therapy (just £1.40 for every £1).

By lowering the barrier to access, organisations can enable their employees to proactively manage, measure and improve their mental wellbeing, anywhere at any time.

Psychometrics and design technology let us track, visualise and understand our minds. Combined with CBT and cognitive psychology, we can take meaningful steps to change our habits and proactively nurture our wellbeing.

These types of services also play a role in destigmatising mental health. They are a safe space for people to begin their journey to recovery – to learn about, measure and improve their mental health in a way that is empowering and authentic.

But implementing these or any workplace mental health tools is not possible without adequate training. You can have the best tools in the world but if employers and employees alike are not trained in using them or in identifying who may need support, then what use are they?

Mental health training is vitally important within organisations, to help employees spot signs that there might be something wrong and provide a first port of call for those who are struggling.

It is an important part of the puzzle of understanding our mental health – yet mental health training is often expensive and restricted to a few key people within an organisation, often in management positions.

If we truly want to make an understanding of mental health accessible to all, we must widen the access to this. According to a study by Business in the Community, just 44% of employees feel comfortable talking to their managers about their own mental health.

This demonstrates that the principles required to build and maintain a mentally healthy workplace come from the bottom up as well as top-down.

By enriching your entire organisation’s understanding of mental health, you create a positive and supportive ecosystem where employees are empowered not just to manage their own wellbeing, but also to support each other.

The answer again, lies with technology. We can and must harness the potential that technology has to reach every employee throughout an organisation, no matter how big, at any time and in any location.

Digital mental health training needs to be part of this too, complementing the proactive approach to mental health and ensuring that organisations are giving their employees the resources and support they need to thrive during a difficult time.

Nick Taylor is CEO and co-founder of Unmind