The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression, anxiety disorders, and other conditions cost the global economy $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. In another report from the medical journal Lancet, the projected cost of productivity could rise to approximately $6 trillion by 2030.
Undoubtedly, mental health has been the invisible pandemic that has increased significantly during the last two years across the world, and in India.
In one research finding, 64% of people globally and 7.5% of Indians have mental illnesses or disorders but are untreated. The Indian Psychiatry Society reported a 20% rise in mental illness cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
Dr. Amit Malik, a well-known psychiatrist and the founder & CEO of InnerHour found an 8X higher employee engagement rate in their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) during the COVID-19 pandemic than average.
The advancement in technology and its ease of use have opened new frontiers in supporting mental health. Poor mental health can take a heavy toll on employees. New digital tools can help employers provide personalized support and make well-being a strategic focus for their organization.
For example, mobile devices and apps combined with technologies such as AI, ML, computer vision, and advanced analytics can provide physicians and researchers with new techniques to help, monitor progress, and enhance understanding of mental health.
Role of Digital Tools to Improve Mental Well-being
New technologies can also be integrated into the most sophisticated applications in smartphones or tablets. Such applications can use sensors of a built-in device to collect information on common user behavior patterns. If an app finds a change in behavior, it may signal that help is needed before a problem arises. Some apps such as InnerHour, and InnayaConnect help users consult with other counselors or health professionals as well.
Himanshu Sathe, General Manager (Customer experience), Maersk believes that mental health support is a necessity. He shared an example of a monitoring service technology in call centers.
“For people working in the call centers, the daily experience of repetitive, intensive, and stressful work frequently results in employee “burnout”. Here tech is applied to process voice signals and detect occupational hazards. If there is a discrepancy in voice, support is provided at the earliest,” Sathe shares.
Given the fact that call recording is a critical component of a contact center’s quality management, compliance, coaching, and training programs, with technology and call records, one can predict the level of anxiety, stress, anger, etc. and provide them with additional support for their overall wellbeing. This can help improve the mental health of call center employees. Organizations can also look at creating a positive and cohesive work environment using such solutions.
According to a senior executive of a multinational food manufacturing company, “an emotionally healthy employee is what we aspire for as not only do they bring their best selves to work but also as a family member, their well-being matters to us! A formal EAP program has enabled us to provide the necessary resources in times of need and an employee doesn’t have to worry about finding one themselves.”
In another instance, Fujitsu has developed to detect levels of stress based on voice information. Read here Technology to Detect Levels of Stress Based on Voice Information (fujitsu.com)
Making a Difference: Startups in Mental Wellness Space
InnerHour App – Dr. Amit Malik is the man behind this tech-enabled, self-help platform that offers 24*7 chat support through a chatbot, Allie, along with mood tracking and goal setting features. The app is designed to include bite-sized activities which users can practice on their own.
A comprehensive program designed by InnerHour offers a wide range of formats for its users – online therapy, the InnerHour app, webinars, and online surveys & assessments.
Dr. Malik from InnerHour told DynamicCIO how there has been a significant uptick in the interest and awareness from corporates about employees’ mental health wellness programs across industries during the pandemic. This, in turn, has led to a 9X increase in the number of employees supported and a 4X increase in the number of therapy bookings.
Inaya Connect, on the other hand, developed by Ishaan Singh, a 17-year-old social entrepreneur who is working towards bridging the gap by providing quality mental healthcare services at zero cost, is a free, privacy-preserving mental health chatbot that can understand over 350 circumstances of mental illness, observes “the key reasons for not seeking help are stigma and cost”. Of course, in a developing country like India, where the median income is just a little over $1500, people cannot afford costly mental health plans or treatments starting at $20 a month. He further added, “in India, mental healthcare is not recognized as essential, and is not covered under most government welfare programs, and is rendered far too expensive for most citizens”.
Keeping these factors in mind, the chatbot is a self-help tool, built for low-income communities and households that addresses the issues of stigma and cost of digital mental healthcare. “It can also give the user the option to connect to a specialized mental health professional,” Ishaan added.
mHealth AI: mHealth is an AI-powered, community-based wellness platform for corporates. It uses an AI chatbot platform to monitor the user’s mood and depending on received inputs from the user.
“Our chatbot-based mood monitor helps analyze the emotions of employees and overall sentiments of the organization and offers different solutions at mHealth, that could be either group session, one-on-one chats with someone the user is comfortable with, or lead to some fun activities to lighten the mood,” says Rajesh Munjal, Founder & CEO, mHealth.
mHealth works on a phygital model using technology at one end and healing through intervention at another end to ensure happiness via mHealth.
It is time for organizations to tackle mental health concerns and the well-being of their employees systematically from time to time. Some companies have been implementing an employee well-being strategy using disruptive tech such as AI & Machine Learning, Augmented Reality (AR) & Virtual Reality (VR), a lot more still needs to be done.
Preeti Malhotra, Practice Head – Wellness & Partnerships, Great Place to Work says “providing digital access is a good step, however, the usage depends on the quality of help available through the app/website and how do companies encourage their usage. Some ways in which companies have seen a positive response is by creating an environment of psychological safety in the organization where employees feel safe to speak up and discuss concerns if they are experiencing anxiety, burnout, depression, or any other mental health concern.”
With evidence emerging on how digital tools can play a useful role in addressing mental health challenges in the workplace, it’s time for employers to get their wellness offerings right.