‘Fitbit for the brain’ helps workers keep tabs on mental wellness

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Imagine if your phone could spot a mental disorder and employees could track their emotional state, just like a physical fitness tracker.

Louis Gagnon compares the idea to having a “Fitbit for the brain.” And some big employers — including aircraft developer Boeing, insurance company Lincoln Financial Group and the state of Colorado — are buying the idea.

Gagnon is the CEO and managing director of Total Brain, an app that guides employees through basic tasks that are meant to give a better understanding of brain capacity. Because most employees don’t have a way to monitor their mental health, he says, they often aren’t performing their best in the office.

“There is no way for us to monitor and train our brain capacity to feel, to think and to recover from stress,” he says. “If we don’t do that, the quality of our presence at home and at work is mostly suboptimal.”

Total Brain markets itself as a way for employees to train their brain to track and reduce stress. It starts by giving employees a 20-minute assessment of their mental health. The assessment includes a combination of tasks and questions that measure things like memory, focus and decision-making. There also are screening tests related to mental conditions. For example, an employee may be asked to characterize their level of stress or identify an emotion portrayed in a photo.

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Then the app provides workers with a percentile score based on their emotion, feeling, cognition and self-control. Once an employee receives their score, they can select a custom brain training program for 15 minutes per day, on topics such as reducing stress or improving memory and focus.

If, based on an employee’s responses, Total Brain feels the individual may have a mental disorder, it can refer them to an employee assistance program or a licensed professional who can provide a deeper analysis of what the issue might be, Gagnon says.

“This is not a diagnostic tool,” he says. “We are not as in-depth as a professional…We basically lead people to call their EAP or professional resources for that in-depth conversation to take place.”

Gagnon says having an app like Total Brain can be valuable for employers because it gives workers the ability to better understand where they could be more productive at work. Presenteeism, he says, can be expensive.

“We are attacking the problem of presenteeism and the huge cost of having people be half present at work,” he says.

Without the brain screening, Total Brain costs employers about $1 per employee per month, Gagnon says. With the screening, it runs about $1.50 per employee, but the company often gives discounts based on the volume of employees, he adds.

Gagnon thinks mental wellness benefits are a valuable asset to employers because it shows workers that they care about their personal wellbeing. If an employer cares about their workers’ health both in the office and at home, employees may be more likely to stay at their job, he adds.

“If I have an employer that is not only worrying about their own growth, but also about my own personal growth, then this is a story that will resonate very strongly with the current workforce,” he says.

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