Workers turn to technology to help with mental health issues

Employees are using technology to assist with mental health issues, as stigma in the workplace prevails, according to research from Accenture

The survey of more than 2,000 UK workers found that 39% are already using technology – such as online services, mobile apps and wearables – to manage stress, improve sleep and boost mental wellbeing.

The number is even greater (46%) among those who have experienced mental health issues.

The research found that the majority of UK employees have used or would use online counselling services or helplines (72%), apps for meditation or relaxation (69%), online chatrooms and support groups (67%), and interactive GP services (65%). In addition, approximately half (52%) would use a chatbot powered by artificial intelligence to support their mental wellbeing, and slightly more (55%) believe that virtual reality can be helpful in managing mental health issues.

This use of technology is arising as significant proportions of people are reporting mental health challenges. More than half (55%) of respondents said they’re either experiencing mental health issues now or have had mental health issues in the past.

Most employees (77%) believe that people should take steps to manage their own mental health, while 57% believe apps and online technologies are going to become the first option many people use to do so. Sixty-seven per cent of workers who have used technology to support their mental health said their choice was based on recommendations from healthcare professionals.

The research also found that there is greater awareness of mental health issues than in the past, with 82% of people saying they are more willing to talk about mental health than they were a few years ago.

The impact of high-profile people disclosing their own mental health challenges was believed to be the biggest factor influencing people’s willingness to talk openly about mental health issues (53%).

However, within the workplace just one in five employees (22%) said they would be open with colleagues about mental health issues. Fear of being treated differently (39%) was cited as the most common reason employees wouldn’t discuss issues with colleagues, followed by embarrassment (30%) and the belief it would damage their career prospects (27%). Just 14% said their company’s senior leaders had communicated the importance of managing mental health in their workplace.

Barbara Harvey, a managing director at Accenture and mental health lead for the business in the UK, said that while technology could be effective it can only go so far.

“As the range of technology for mental health expands, organisations can support their employees by providing them with access to tools that have been tested and found to be most effective,” she said.

“However, technology will only ever be part of the solution – there’s no substitute for people talking and supporting each other. It’s all part of creating a truly human workplace where everyone feels safe to open up about mental health.”

Sophie Dix, director of research at mental health charity MQ, added that there has been significant progress in business' attitudes towards mental health.

“Recent high-profile initiatives have made mental health in the workplace a priority across UK business and are providing unprecedented information and support for employers, which will be vital in changing attitudes and practices,” she said.

Organisations must now focus on treatment for employees who are struggling, she added.

“To capitalise on these advances we also need to develop effective ways to treat and prevent mental health conditions in the workplace. Accenture’s survey shines a light on the potential for using technology to achieve this goal, but also points to the major lack of evidence that exists for current interventions.”