13 OCT 2021

Starting Beyond affecting the way that we work and live, the COVID-19 pandemic has also drastically changed our relationship with technology. In a previous article, we talked about how the increasing digital divide plays a part in our experience of isolation and loneliness. There are, however, two sides to the impact that technology continues to bring to our lives - the other being the growing demand for mental health-related digital solutions. In Cigna’s 2021 360 Wellbeing report, some 58% of respondents in Singapore reported that they have work-related stress, higher than the global average of 51%1. Amongst the same group of respondents in Singapore, 66% indicated that they would consider or prefer virtual engagements for their mental health. Such openness to virtual solutions is undeniably aided by the ubiquity of personal digital devices like smartphones and fitness trackers in recent years, allowing many programmes to shift to virtual formats. Unsurprisingly, these solutions are proving to be popular picks for employer-sponsored health offerings - here’s why.

Filling industry gaps via technology 

We are not designed to run a marathon without prior training or to build 8kg of muscle mass in a single day. Reaching these goals will require time, planning, discipline and willpower. The aim is to start small as you are more likely to reach your primary goal if you break milestones down into smaller, short-term objectives.

Pick an activity that’s comfortable and physically realistic for you. Next, find a start point that’s attainable. For instance, you can try to complete a 2km run in 15 minutes, then gradually pick up the pace in following weeks. You’ll also need to establish a practical timeframe. If you plan to lose 20kg, a realistic weight loss of 1kg every one to two weeks will require approximately 20 to 40 weeks.1

Track your physical activity  

As with many different areas and sectors, technology provides us with the ability to tailor and customise the experience to our preferences, filling in the market’s gaps via a wide range of options that can be more easily made available. The same applies to mental health. In the context of the pandemic, physical consultations are a lot less feasible due to the restrictive measures that are in place, such as the need for social distancing. Technology helps us get around this with the use of virtual consultations and online services. The prevalence of smartphones and similar devices means that most individuals have access to these digital solutions on demand - anytime, anywhere. In fact, they are making mental health care more accessible than ever since technology cuts out the long wait times that are often needed for in-person therapy. Their convenience and accessibility also lower the barriers of entry for mental health care in more ways than one. Having quick solutions on the go, for instance, tends to be less costly than one-to-one therapy. It also removes the factor of time and distance for those who find such considerations problematic, making the overall experience more affordable.

Equally crucial for lowering the barriers of entry is the factor of anonymity. While the convenience that technology provides has helped reduce the cost of mental health treatment, it is its associated anonymity that works to reduce the impact of social stigma on individuals seeking care. The discreet and personal nature of these solutions means that users are less likely to feel afraid or guilty for seeking the help they need. On the contrary, digital solutions can come across as empowering since they are framed in a more positive light. Wellness apps, for instance, do not promise to ‘fix’ mental health concerns. Instead, they offer to help individuals improve their productivity, mindfulness, nutrition, and so on, emphasising positive avenues of care rather than the negative ‘flaws’ associated with it.

In this sense, the magic of technological solutions is that they place the opportunity for good mental health support right into one’s own hands, empowering them to take charge of their own mental health journey and to start it as early as possible. In doing so, they are likely to help individuals improve their own mental wellbeing before the issue becomes acute.

Varied solutions for individual needs

As employers, it is always important to keep in mind that mental health care is deeply personal. Mental health is a continuum from wellness to acute illness, including clinically diagnosable disorders, unrecognised ones, and everything in between. As such, there is no one solution that applies to every individual. Rather, every individual requires a unique solution that best fits their circumstances. Thankfully, technology has provided us with a wide range of capabilities that we can tap into to develop a comprehensive mental health programme that works for our employees.

Tracking and monitoring 

Effective care can now begin even before a problem arises. Keeping track of important mental health markers is now easier than ever with wearable devices and biomarker apps that can help us to infer stress and wellbeing levels from biometric data like heart rates, breathing, skin temperature, and much more. Some are even equipped with self-report mood or voice recording features to better gauge one’s emotional state. Having access to tools like these can encourage employees to look out for their own mental health state and triggers so that they can manage them at the first sign of trouble. On a broader scale, such innovative forms of data collection can also be integrated into broader care ecosystems for timely intervention within the organisation, as long as the data used continues to respect employees’ privacy concerns.

Prevention

Other technological solutions push for more concrete, wellbeing-driven objects such as early prevention and managing one’s own personal health via self-care. As such, some solutions focus heavily on mental health-related care like meditation, while others cover various Whole Person Health aspects such as sleep, fitness, and nutrition in order to paint a more comprehensive picture of employee wellbeing. Employers can also make use of technological solutions to provide employees with personalised offerings ranging from telehealth access to resilience and habit training. Even making use of simple digital solutions such as setting up automated email responses can make a big difference in reducing stress and reinforcing personal boundaries for better work-life balance.

Treatment

As mentioned previously, online or mobile therapy have been growing in popularity, especially during the pandemic as well as amongst those who are more hesitant about face-to-face options. These digital solutions are therefore a good alternative for prospective patients looking for care in their time of need. Today, such therapy sessions are either conducted virtually using voice or video chat, or via text-based services that are available around the clock.

The rapid technological breakthroughs that we have been experiencing in the past few decades mean that more innovative solutions have also been on the rise, including that of Virtual Reality (VR) treatments. With its roots in the 1990s, VR has been successfully used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)2. New programmes are now able to tackle a much broader range of conditions, including addiction, claustrophobia, and depression via exposure therapy.

 

Over to you

Whether you are looking to adopt new technological solutions or revamp existing ones for your organisation, it is vital to consider how they can fit your organisation’s needs and culture. For example, think about how tech-savvy your employees are, their level of access to technology, as well as onboarding best practices that can put them at ease. This can mean making implementation fully anonymous or reinforcing digital solutions with company-wide campaigns and personalised support. To get started on creating a mental care programme that is unique for your organisation, keep in mind how the coming changes might benefit your target population, allow you to achieve wellbeing-specific goals, and enable you to measure their effectiveness for further improvements. At the end of the day, a truly sustainable health and wellbeing programme is one that fully utilises different, mutually supportive solutions to create a culture of care that is mindful of Whole Person Health.

 


Sources:
1. Cigna. (2021). 2021 Cigna 360 WellBeing Survey: On the Road to Recovery.
2. Parkin, S. (2017). How virtual reality is helping heal soldiers suffering with PTSD. NBC.

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