Reducing the stigma of mental illness with digital treatment options

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Mental health has become a global epidemic, and employers are quickly becoming aware of how important it is to provide resources for workers who may be struggling.

“We’ve gone through an evolution from where mental health wasn’t being addressed at all within the workplace to a point today where there is a far higher level of awareness,” says Ken Cahill, CEO of SilverCloud Health, a digital mental health company. “But we have to move from that to providing an actionable plan and a solution within the workplace.”

One in four people will be affected by a mental health disorder during their life, and 450 million people have mental health issues, according to the World Health Organization. The financial drain on the workplace is staggering: mental illness accounts for $194 billion in lost revenue per year due to increased healthcare costs, lost productivity and absenteeism, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“People aren't being given the toolkits to help them handle the key challenges that are there in life,” Cahill says. “Those [challenges] will leak into the everyday work environment.”

Despite the growing number of people living with mental health disorders, finding accessible and affordable treatment is often a barrier to getting help. Two-thirds of people with mental disorders never seek treatment from health professionals, according to WHO.

“The level of acceptance around mental health is improving, but the system is getting worse — our access to mental health professionals, psychiatrists and others is getting worse,” says Michael Thompson, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions.

SilverCloud hopes to ease the burden through their benefits platform, treating mental health needs through online modules, journaling and coaching.

“It’s very much about the full spectrum of care — challenges around work-life balance, resilience, sleep, financial debt, anxiety and depression,” Cahill says. “What we're delivering to the organization is a full end-to-end solution, and everyone can access it.”

SilverCloud uses techniques backed by cognitive behavioral therapy, one of the most common forms of treatment. Users start by taking a short quiz, which identifies a variety of risk factors associated with their mental health and assigns them various program modules 30 to 40 minutes in length. Users also have access to in-person coaches who can personalize and suggest other modules and features, depending on their needs.

Cahill says SilverCloud can be used in conjunction with in-person therapy and other mental health treatments, but 65% of users report a clinically significant improvement in the reduction or severity of their symptoms, in line with person-to-person therapy outcomes. Currently, over 200 healthcare, payor and employee benefits organizations are working with SilverCloud. Express Scripts and Mercer Canada will soon be able to get access to the company’s digital mental health platform as well.

SilverCloud is part of a growing group of digital mental health providers hoping to meet the demands of employees placing a high priority on accessible, tech-based mental health benefits. Benefitfocus includes access to Happify through their BenefitsPlace platform. The mental health app uses gamification to teach mood training. Additionally, Cisco recently partnered with Vida, a chronic care app, to offer teletherapy through its digital coaching platform.

Cahill says the focus on the importance of good mental health will push employers to keep fighting for these critical resources.

“The reason we all hold down a job, work as functioning members of society, hold on to relationships and those kinds of things are the result of good mental health,” he says. “There’s still work to be done, but the strides that have been made are a real sea change from where we were two or three years ago.”

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