There’s an app for that — that meaning almost everything. I covered mental health apps for Workforce a couple years ago, exploring how technology solutions can benefit employees with mental health issues, which is why I was intrigued to find a ComPsych survey in my inbox the other morning. The findings? If employers want to help depressed workers, apps may not be the answer.
Workforce covered technology in our latest HR tech-themed issue, including a few stories on the negative and positive impacts of technology. While this information was also valuable, I found the survey by ComPsych, a Chicago-based employee assistance program provider, to be especially noteworthy because of the specific population it addressed: depressed workers. We can argue pointedly on both sides about how technology has both positive and negative effects on people’s lives and well-being. But when we’re talking about mentally ill people getting help, I think it’s better to be a bit more careful.
I can’t speak for this hypothesis, but I can share some of the findings from the ComPsych research. The EAP, considering the loneliness epidemic and the need for more face-to-face interaction, advocates for in-person counseling. The role of apps in getting mental help? “Using them as means to draw people in to receive more in-depth help.”
“There’s a human function and a human interaction component — you can call it empathy, you can call it connectedness, you can all it a lot of things — that you miss regardless of what you employ in the technological realm that an in-person experience with another human being provides for a person seeking care,” said Richard Chaifetz, founder, chairman and CEO of ComPsych.
He added that any way we can improve, increase and expand people’s ability to access care is positive and that technology has a lot of value in mental health. Take, for example, a different technology in health care: telemedicine. This solves some issues related to access and availability of care, but for serious illnesses or comprehensive medical problems, in-person care is preferable. The same could be said about mental health.
Take this instance. Years ago, people would took paper surveys about their mental well-being. Am I depressed? Am I stressed?
“Those moved to internet-based questions, and now they’ve moved to online cognitive help for people to walk through different scenarios in their lives and provide resources and counseling online,” Chaifetz said. “It’s a way to stimulate thought, [and] it’s a way to bring people under the tent to explore issues related to mental health or mental well-being.”
He also added that at ComPsych, when people are online, they constantly are reminded that in-person care in available. Here’s the number you call, here’s how you get something scheduled, here’s what you need to know. It’s a way to make sure people know their options.
Most employers understand that technology is not the answer to everything in medical care, and more employees than in the past are open to getting care for mental health needs, thanks to the stigma disappearing over time, Chaifetz said.
Still, I find this important to bring up because understanding something and taking action are two different things. For example, quality and access in mental health care are still current issues, even if people understand the importance. Chaifetz mentioned that most large and medium sized companies have mental health services beyond basic counseling mandated in their health plans, but that leaves me curious about the state of health plans for small employers, where many employees work and get health insurance.
Looking at this from a broader perspective, this pitch reminded me of something that it couldn’t hurt to remind employers. Wanting to help your overall workforce with their general mental health and wanting to help your mentally ill employees with specific mental health issues are two different beasts.
Both are important, and both require different considerations. It’s the difference between someone needing to take a mental health day to sleep in and do something relaxing and someone needing to take a mental health day to see a counselor for an emergency session. Or the difference between someone wanting to use HSA dollars to help pay for an exercise class and someone wanting to use HSA dollars for medication.
The amount of mental-health pitches I get a day is great and I believe a good sign that employers genuinely want to know what they can do so as not to negatively impact their employees’ mental health.
In other benefits-related news this week:
- Can This New Employee Benefit Help You Hack Death?: A blockchain startup has adopted a stem cell storage benefit, saying that these young, healthy cells can potentially be used in the future for “health maintenance.” However, experts in stem cell research say there’s not yet any scientific evidence that stem cells could be used to reverse illnesses (be in heart-related illnesses, brain-related illnesses or blood cancer) when people age. Is this benefit promising more than it can deliver? (Bloomberg)
- IRS Clears Way for Student Loan Benefit Tied to 401(k): This company has introduced a new benefit in which debt-straddled employee with student loan benefits can begin to save for retirement by paying off student loans. When they make a loan payment, their company puts money in their 401(k). My benefits sources say this is not yet a trend, for a variety of reasons, but it’s definitely something to have your eye on moving forward. (Employee Benefit News)