The average American spends nearly 100,000 hours, or over 10 years, at work over their lifetime. The conditions that time is spent in can have a significant positive or negative effect on one’s overall mental health throughout the course of their life, regardless of any preexisting mental health issues. Additionally, adults are spending an increasing number of hours every day on their smartphones – over 3 hours per day. On one hand, these statistics are concerning, and correlate with a rise in anxiety and depression. On the other, both technology and the workplace can be sources of positivity and connection, and this intersection points to an opportunity to address the society-wide issue of poor mental health.
Imagine a middle-aged, highly successful professional woman, with a career and a family, who has found herself struggling with depression caused by any number of factors. The time she spends at her place of work and the resources she has access to are critical in her being able to identify and treat her chronic issue. However, imagine this woman has been a high-achiever her entire life, and is self-conscious about raising the issue with her employer. Alternatively, perhaps her life is so fast-paced that she feels she cannot prioritize her time to schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist. In either case, technology provides ways for this woman to assess and care for her own mental health and seek treatment if necessary, all while maintaining stability in her work schedule.
Telehealth has already emerged as a way for physicians to care for patients remotely, providing access to care for those in remote settings or who are unable or ill-equipped to physically travel to a clinic. Digital psychiatry provides similar solutions to the obstacles faced by the professional workforce, and can include apps, screening platforms, or even digital therapy. While apps should not be considered a replacement for in-person psychiatric treatment, they can help track progress and monitor behavior, especially during work hours when a patient is focused on other tasks. For example, as described in a 2017 Atlantic article, “As people start to slide into depression…they may do several of the following things easily sensed by a [smartphone]…they may talk with fewer people, spend more time at home and go fewer places. They may sleep differently.” A Harvard Business Review story points to the potential of our devices to gather enough data to indicate when it may be time to take a day off for our mental health or seek professional treatment. From the perspective of a dedicated employee, seeing actual data around their behavioral patterns can encourage them to take action to get better, sooner.
For employers, offering access to technology-based platforms can be a way to encourage employees to make use of mental health resources. Currently, stigma around mental health pervades many workplaces, to the extent that many employers avoid actively engaging managers or HR teams to respond to challenges or promote mental health programs. Digital platforms provide tools, training and assessments that can be used privately, on any mobile device, allowing an anonymity not inherent in conventional psychiatric care.
Technology and apps are not the panacea to poor mental health in the workplace, which can be driven by the workplace environment itself. However, with thoughtful integration and deep consideration of issues like privacy, digital technology is also well-positioned to combat significant barriers related to workplace mental health support and services – primarily stigma and lack of easily-accessible, in-person treatment.
The technological connectivity of a professional workplace creates an opportunity to implement digital screening platforms for mental health, for example, while mental health apps can help employees clear the barrier of stigma – as long as a comprehensive mental wellness strategy is set up to break down that barrier over the long-term. Technology and apps provide a huge opportunity to turn the workplace into an environment where people can openly care for their mental health, which is not the case in many spheres of society today.