Paying mind to mental health in large business
Businesses have recognised the importance of mental health – this much is clear from the sheer number of wellness apps and chatbots that have sprung up over the past few years. But when it comes to improving the wellness of those working within corporate organisations, there is often much to be desired.
Dr. Nick Taylor, co founder and CEO of Unmind, believes that organisations are genuinely beginning to care about the mental wellness of their employees. What needs to be done to maintain this momentum in mental health?
Mental health matters
Taylor, who is a clinical psychologist by trade, returned to university to study psychology after working for a mental health charity. He then joined the NHS, where he developed an interest in corporate wellbeing. Two and a half years ago, Taylor left the NHS to start Unmind. The decision, he says, was motivated by three key frustrations.
“First, whenever I spoke to people as a clinician, I spoke to them three or six or nine months too late. What this means is that it’s harder to help the person get better, and they are living with an unpleasant situation for an unnecessarily long period of time. The second frustration was that a lot of the information that can help people stay well is pretty straightforward. Information should be available straight away, any time. The final frustration is that there is not enough focus on prevention in mental health.”
At the start of 2017, Taylor began to lay the foundations for Unmind along with his three cofounders. Their aim was to build a proactive, preventative service for mental health in enterprise. After gaining initial angel investment, Unmind began to test and refine its platform. At its first trade show, the startup met the Yorkshire Building Society and, within seven weeks, signed a contract to use their platform to improve the wellness of the bank’s 4,500 employees. As well as a host of global companies, Unmind also works with John Lewis and Waitrose.
An aspirational narrative
While most of the mental health initiatives in place today are reactive, Unmind advocates prevention over cure. This starts with repositioning the subject itself.
“It’s no good approaching the subject in a way that will scare or worry people,” Taylor says. “Nobody’s ever bought a toothbrush with a picture of bad teeth on it. Nobody buys trainers that are worn by a model that is out of shape. Few of us have perfect teeth or bodies, but we engage with that aspirational narrative and it inspires us to take positive action.”
This is precisely what Unmind aims to do by enabling employees to look after their mental health. In turn, organisations can understand the wellness of their workers on an aggregated, anonymised basis. Using a clinically validated assessment tool called the Unmind Index, users can understand how well they are via a personal score profile. Unmind then uses the profile to direct the user to a range of relevant content, including a learning development platform and a daily mood diary. However, if an employee appears to be struggling with the platform, Unmind signposts to external services.
“We’re a piece of the jigsaw puzzle, not the whole picture,” says Taylor. “In the UK, we’re really ahead of the curve. I think that’s been brought about by high profile people talking about mental health, most notably Prince William. That would have be unimaginable 30 years ago. It’s incredibly powerful.”
Wellness on demand
As the negative stigma of mental health begins to lift, there is also a greater recognition of the scale of the problem. However, forming an appropriate, effective response goes beyond identifying certain conditions.
“Mental health is not like a broken leg. You can X-ray a broken leg and understand exactly what’s happened. Mental health is a much more complex proposition. It’s a spectrum, and the key thing for us is to make sure that wherever you are on that spectrum, you’ve got the right support.”
Although there is now more acceptance surrounding mental health, there are some businesses that cling to existing prejudices. This could be due to traditional, hierarchical management structures, or even geographic location. Part of the solution will be increased openness and the wider availability of technology. Another important development is the growing popularity of events such as Mad World Conference, which will be held in London on the 9th of October 2019.
“Last year there was just such a buzz and such an energy. I think people felt this collective sigh of relief that finally we’ve got to the place where an event like that could take place, and the potential we have over the coming years to raise the profile of mental health,” says Taylor. “There’s an amazing group of people involved, from the organisers to the companies to the speakers. It’s a celebration of the subject and an opportunity for people to share best practice. Hopefully the outcome is that it makes a real tangible difference to people in the workplace.”
It’s not all altruistic
While it’s nice to think that businesses really care about mental wellbeing, it could be argued that recognition has come out of necessity. From a productivity perspective, it makes good business sense for employers to prioritise mental health in the workplace.
“Bear in mind that it is not always entirely altruistic, and that’s okay,” notes Taylor. “On a very basic level, if you have people who are well, then your business is more likely to thrive.”
Either way, as society becomes more aware and accepting of mental health, companies will have little choice but to support good mental health within their organisations.
“Organisations that haven’t woken up to the importance of mental health will recognise that at some point, the talent pool will prioritise workplaces that are known to care. If you’re slow to it now, it will cause a big headache on the horizon.”
Through Unmind, companies can shift the perception of mental health as a taboo subject to one that is celebrated and openly discussed. Catalysing this cultural shift will take time, but as Taylor rightly suggests, the next generation of workers will be more understanding of mental health. Businesses that don’t realise this now will not only fail to improve the productivity of existing employees, but they will struggle to attract new talent.
Ultimately, Taylor wants to see a world in which mental health gains parity with other types of health. Fortunately, the world of work is changing. Flatter management structures, human centric approaches and flexible working have made it easier for those who struggle with their mental health. As recognition continues to grow, so will the tools available to help.
“I’ve personally never been more excited about the state of mental health,” says Taylor. “I think we’re at a real turning point.”
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