Could wearable tech improve your mental health?
01 May 2018 -
NEW RESEARCH SHOWS THE MAJORITY OF EMPLOYEES SUPPORT THE USE OF WEARABLE TECH TO HELP THEIR MANAGERS DETECT MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS INCLUDING STRESS AND DEPRESSION
To date, wearable technology such as fitness wristbands have been aimed at improving physical health. In recent times, Insights also looked at how wearable tech is being used to boost productivity. However, an increasing number of tech companies are now designing wristbands, sensor patches and other products to help the one in four people suffering from a mental illness track their symptoms. And these tools could be used to fight stress at work.
Work is often cited as a major stressor for employees. In CMI’s own Quality of Working Life study, more than half (54%) of managers agreed that long working hours are leading to elevated levels of stress. We also know that having ‘continuous conversations’ about mental health can help promote long-term well-being at work.
Wearable tech may offer managers an innovative way to support colleagues, encourage open discussion on mental health in the office and build a positive working environment.
WEARABLE TECH COULD HELP MANAGERS DETECT STRESS AND DEPRESSION
According to new research from the AXA Health Tech & You State of the Nation survey, more than half (51%) of British workers would be prepared to wear a device that detects the early signs of mental health symptoms if their company supplied it free of charge. The study suggests that most employees are willing to try health tech if it improves their wellbeing. Crucially, 45% say they are comfortable sharing the data with managers to help with wellbeing strategies.
MENTAL HEALTH STIGMA AT WORK
Past studies have shown people with mental health disorders in the workplace find it difficult to disclose their condition to colleagues and do not ask for help because of fear of judgment and losing friends. However, the State of the Nation survey suggests management of mental illness is improving. Of those who have talked to their employer about their mental health, 71% have been supported or helped to manage their symptoms in the workplace.
Suzanne Scott, HR director at AXA PPP healthcare, said: “In my experience line managers want to support people in their teams who experience mental health issues. Technology opens up a new way to help both the employee and the manager broach the subject and having the relevant data is always a helpful way into a conversation.”
WEARABLE TECH FOR PRODUCTS FOR MENTAL HEALTH
Current innovations include The Reveal band designed for autistic patients who suffer from anxiety and tracks the user's heart rate, body temperature and sweat levels. Described as an ‘emotional wellbeing wearable’, the Leaf Urban bracelet also identifies sleeping patterns and detects when users are feeling stressed.
Led by Lancaster University’s Professor Corina Sas, and gathering researchers from the University of Oxford, the NHS and Philips Research in the Netherlands, the AffecTech project is also set to deliver wearable solutions to the market to combat affective health disorders, notably depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
The use of wearable technology for mental illness in the workplace isn’t without concerns. Who will oversee the data? Like all medical records, mental illness is a private and confidential issue, but the use of wearable tech at work could complicate that. Will employers be managing the data? Is that ethical? Can, and will, managers use the data to make major decisions? What protections are there to ensure managers do not overstep the mark? All crucial questions that need to be outlined immediately.
The AXA study revealed that there are still fears around workplace discrimination once employers know about mental health issues. Then there’s the issue of security. With high-profile cyber-security management breaches in the NHS in recent years, can employees trust employers to hold or share their mental illness records securely?
Another issue is long-term effectiveness. From New Year’s Resolutions to fad diets, many people struggle to initiate new habits consistently, and managers may need to think about how to develop their working practices and policies to encourage users to persist with monitoring their mental health through wearables.
As Kathryn M. Salisbury Ph.D., vice president of the Mental Health Association of New York City, has stated, deeper evaluation is needed to draw the full picture on using wearables to support mental health. "There is no question that wearables and mental health apps provide opportunities for self-management and monitoring of behavioural health conditions," she says. "However, few of them have undergone rigorous evaluation – and their design is effective often because they use already-proven interventions like behavioural activation or cognitive behavioural therapy."
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