We’re in the midst of a mental health pandemic. According to the World Health Organisation, instances of depression and other mental health conditions are on the rise globally. Stress has become part of our daily lives. In this article, Asim Amin, founder and CEO of Plumm, suggests we can look to technology to help improve the situation.
Our society is the most advanced it’s ever been. But people are more stressed, more anxious, and more depressed than ever. Covid-19 has been a significant factor in this, of course. 10% of UK adults reported symptoms of depression in the year prior to the pandemic. By June 2020, the number had almost doubled.
Interestingly, a medical study found that, while deaths by suicide have risen steadily over the last two decades, no significant increase was observed in the UK during the period of lockdown. So, while the Coronavirus crisis is certainly a contributory factor to the increase in mental health conditions, it’s not the only factor.
As well as dealing with the impact of COVID-19, factors such as changes in working habits and advancements in technology continue to bring new and increasing levels of stress into our lives. Unfortunately, as human beings, we have come to believe that such stress is a natural part of our everyday lives. The truth is, however, it shouldn’t be. And there are steps we can take to minimize its impact on our health.
Work and life out of balance
Our lives revolve around work. Before the pandemic, most of us spent more time in the workplace with our colleagues than at home with our families. Having to work remotely may have made the situation even worse.
Pre-Covid-19 most people’s jobs had an off switch. We left the office at 6pm and, apart from checking the odd email on the train on the way home, we were finished for the day. We may not have realized it at the time, but our work/life balance was probably better than it is today. Now, we’re all using virtual communication tools such as Slack, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams. Our kitchen table has become our virtual office, and when that virtual office is always on, it’s bound to affect our personal lives.
With people forced out of their comfort zone and adapting to a new way of living and working, the last 18 months have been unusually challenging. Parents of young children have found it especially hard, having to balance home-working with home-schooling.
It’s essential, then, that businesses consider the mental wellbeing of their workforce. It may have become a buzzword in recent years, but the impact these challenging times have on our work/life balance can lead to burnout. Bad for mental health, and bad for business, avoiding burnout requires greater awareness by companies and employees alike.
It’s vital to understand just how important mental wellbeing is. We often think of our mind and body as separate, but our mental and physical health are inextricably linked. Issues with our physical health can make us prone to mental health problems, and vice versa. Indeed, research shows that people with mental health problems are likely to be more at risk of experiencing a preventable physical health condition.
Understanding this relationship allows us to better appreciate the need to start taking care of ourselves. For example, taking a moment for yourself is very important in your work and personal life. This could be meditating, walking out in nature, or something as simple as being mindful of how much water you drink every day.
It’s something the younger generations have already embraced. We’re currently seeing a paradigm shift in which Millennials and Gen-Z are much more open to trying new experiences. They’re far closer than many of their older peers to understand the benefits of taking care of their mental health. And they’re likely to be more open to exploring how technology can help improve both their mental and physical wellbeing.
Convenient and affordable
Digital technology has affected almost every area of our lives in recent years, and is drastically changing the mental health sector, not least due to the convenience and affordability it can offer.
Take therapy, for example. Speaking to someone about your problems can be hugely helpful, especially when that person is an experienced third-party professional, a relative stranger who has no reason to judge you. It’s a critical first step toward understanding that living with stress and anxiety is simply not normal. But talking to a therapist can be very expensive. Unable to afford it, most people have never spoken to a professional therapist in this way.
But technology is now making such services more affordable. The ability to offer counselling and guidance via an online platform, for example, helps make therapy more widely available and convenient and bring the costs down. In addition, it means many companies can now offer counselling and therapy services to their employees for less than is costs to provide company snacks.
Tech is helping to improve the convenience and affordability of physical health, too. Indeed, the physical healthcare segment has truly embraced technology, and there are a wealth of apps, platforms, and wearable devices available. Yet, with a huge synergy between physical and mental health, there’s a clear need for focus on tech that improves the mental wellbeing of people too.
Our lives have been disrupted massively over the last 18 months. But even when we finally emerge from the COVID crisis, we’ll still be dealing with anxiety, depression, and stress. According to Luana Marques, a clinical psychologist monitoring the mental health impact of the crisis, “I don’t think this is going to go back to baseline anytime soon.”
- Hybrid work model improves mental health for over a third of UK workers
- “We want action”: the need to transform mental health services with tech
- The only NHS’ approved mental health app has raised £2.5mn in a record 10 days
- AWS announces general availability of Amazon HealthLake
Stress and anxiety don’t need to be the norm, though, and the technology is now available to help us improve both our mental and physical health, offering a convenient and affordable way to fight our way out of the mental health pandemic we’re living through.