Technology Making an Impact on Mental Health

By Andie Burjek

Oct. 3, 2016

The costs associated with mental health treatment have skyrocketed.

Some 7.6 percent of America’s full-time workforce is estimated to have major depressive disorder, and its economic costs nationally were about $210 billion annually in 2015, up from $173.3 billion annually in 2005, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

AdobeStock_116896525_302x170Such staggering numbers remain a primary reason why prevention is an appealing concept to employers. For example, resiliency training aims to give employees the skills to face change more positively and manage crises effectively. Its goal is to reduce the impact of stress, and potentially, anxiety or depression.

In fact, 42 percent of large employers (companies with more than 500 employees) offer resiliency or stress management programs, according to the Mercer 2015 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans.

“What we’ve talked about to our clients is the idea of prevention,” said Sandra Kuhn, a principal at Mercer and a senior consultant whose focus is health management strategies. “It’s taking a person’s ability to manage through a crisis and have it be more positive.”

There’s been an increase of vendors focused on those sets of skills, she added. Traditionally, companies have relied on in-house training for areas like resiliency or mindfulness, but vendors are offering technology-based solutions as well.

There isn’t much research yet about the effectiveness of these technology-based solutions, but most of the vendors rely on a proven framework like positive psychology or cognitive therapy, said Kuhn.

MoodKit is one app that uses the principles and techniques of cognitive behavior therapy, a popular, evidence-based practice for treating mental disorders. Based on cognitive behavior therapy, the app is designed to identify cycles of unhealthy thinking or behaviors, bolster people’s coping capabilities and improve their mood.

Dr. Edrick Dorian, a board certified clinical and police psychologist, and Dr. Drew Erhardt, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, released the app in 2011. Technology-based solutions provide the opportunity to cast a wide net, they said.

“Apps have remarkable potential to democratize many of the tools and principles [of psychology],” said Dorian. “Particularly in the workplace, because they’re relatively affordable and because employers could potentially make them available to employees on a wide scale and at a low cost.”

Similarly, the online platform Happify was developed in 2011 based off scientific literature accumulated across the past 30 years, said co-founder and president Ofer Leidner. About 18 months ago, Happify Health was released for the use of employers, health plans and enterprise organizations.

With Happify and its enterprise equivalent, people are encouraged to improve emotional well-being by working on areas like self-awareness, kindness and gratitude. Then they report the results on the platform. In another exercise, they may be encouraged to be in nature and take a walk outside and share an image online later.

Preventative care works, Leidner noted, because it caters to mental health, an area that has traditionally been neglected or only addressed in times of crisis.

“In the past couple of years, companies have been tackling this solution for employers and employees [and] providing preventative solutions for people before they slide into a level of stress and anxiety that drives up health care costs,” he said.

Denise Heybrock, senior health and well-being consultant at Aon Hewitt, commented on the surge of mental health apps and their effectiveness from an outsider’s point of view. These preventative online platforms don’t work for everyone, and not everyone will be interested in them, she said. But they’re a good way to increase accessibility for people.

“Whenever you give more options,” Heybrock said. “You open up the ability to touch more people and get more people the help they need.”

The MoodKit founders also mentioned that these solutions aren’t for everyone. People with serious mental health problems should get medical help.

“It’s not the equal of therapy, but [it works] for many with earlier stage symptoms,” said Dorian. “Apps, websites and digital tools that thoughtfully and appropriately package these principles and tools [of psychology] really do have great potential for improving the health and well-being of individuals and [improving] productivity in the workplace.”

Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editorComment below, or email at Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.


Andie Burjek is an associate editor at

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