They say necessity is the mother of invention, so it’s no surprise that a mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic has yielded excellent new approaches to mental health care. 

Even prior to these strange times, the number of people struggling with mental health challenges was substantial. When coronavirus hit, the number surged even more while care became harder to access under quarantine safety protocols. Though many providers were compelled to make the reluctant shift from traditional, in-person care to remote telehealth, outcomes have been positive overall. 

The brightest silver lining, however, is that pandemic-induced necessity has spurred broader invention and acceptance of numerous technology-based care options. That’s great news for employers who recognize the urgent need to bring new solutions to an ever-growing number of people within their ranks who are unable to access desperately needed mental health care.

“The brightest silver lining, however, is that pandemic-induced necessity has spurred broader invention and acceptance of numerous technology-based care options”

Still, knowing something needs to be done is not the same as knowing how to do it.  

In an effort to bridge that gap, Big Health’s Vice President of Clinical Development and Medical Affairs Dr. Jenna Carl, recently spoke at the Health Action Council’s IN-VALUE-ABLE Conference Series about the burgeoning technology-driven mental health care movement and how employers should approach mental health in the COVID era, and beyond.

Mental health care for the masses

Dr. Carl first pointed out that the employee mental health spectrum ranges from healthy people to severely distressed individuals in dire need of solutions that address specific problems. 

Digital therapeutics such as Sleepio, she says, are well suited for those with specific mental health difficulties because fully automated, digital programs for mental health “are personalized and evidence based, and address a specific problem.” As a result, she says, “they are evaluated to have specific effects” in much the same way as commonly prescribed drugs are evaluated for efficacy.

“In addition, she says, digital therapeutics have the potential to help employers reach underserved and under- or improperly-cared-for individuals…”

In addition, she says, digital therapeutics have the potential to help employers reach parts of the employee population that may be less likely to access traditional face-to-face care options due to stigma and other barriers as well as those who would benefit from digital tools and care alongside in-person care.  Digital therapeutics have the potential to dramatically extend access to evidence-based care because they tick many of the same boxes as medications, for example:

  • Scalable
  • Affordable
  • Consistent 
  • Evidence-based

Understanding the journey

The first step companies should take in order to help employees is understanding where they are in their mental health journey. Specifically, Dr. Carl says, “those suffering from mental health difficulties fall into two distinct categories: the journey to care and the journey through care.” 

Because those on the road to care may not even realize their symptoms are connected to a mental health condition, companies should find ways to connect, engage and raise awareness. 

Those already in the system have a different set of problems employers should address. For example, a person seeking professional help for chronic  sleep problems may need support overcoming challenges like:

  • Long wait times for access to the appropriate specialist providers
  • Lack of understanding about what effective, evidence-based care should look like 
  • Inability to access preferred intervention 
  • Receipt of non-evidence-based or off-guideline care

Focus on three key goals

In summary, Dr. Carl says, focusing on three key goals will help employers develop effective mental health care solutions for those most in need:

  1. Understanding employee experiences and where they are in their journey to care;
  2. Customizing messaging that breaks stigma and reaches employees effectively; and
  3. Providing efficient access to a range of evidence-based solutions that help employees improve their mental health and build trust

Though the current mental health crisis is daunting, employers should feel optimistic about their role in alleviating it. Providing employees with a wide range of mental health care options, including digital therapeutics, is a critical part of addressing mental health in 2021 and in the future.

To hear more, watch Dr. Carl’s full presentation from the Health Action Council IN-VALUE-ABLE Conference Series.

Disclaimer: In accordance with FDA’s Current Enforcement Discretion Policy for Digital Health Devices for Psychiatric Disorders, for patients aged 18 years and older, who are followed by and diagnosed with Insomnia Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder by a medical provider, Sleepio and Daylight can be made available as an adjunct to their usual medical care for Insomnia Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder, respectively. Sleepio and Daylight do not replace the care of a medical provider or the patient’s medication. Sleepio and Daylight have not been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for these indications. Users are directed to not make any changes to their prescribed medication or other type of medical treatment without seeking professional medical advice.

Watch the full presentation

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