| Alexander Guild | Février 2021 |

 

Wellbeing has become a buzzword for anything related to someone’s health and is hard to define [1]. The term is usually described by what it is closely associated with such as self-perceived health, longevity, healthy behaviours, mental and physical illness, social connectedness, and productivity [2]. Despite its complexity, the term is used frequently to characterise organisational culture in the workplace, global prosperity, and progress [3]. Today, the aspiration to lead a life with wellbeing at the centre of it has led to the development of all kinds of commercial solutions and services.

The increase in awareness around wellbeing is complicated. Some attribute it to the influence of the field of positive psychology and its drive to going beyond material welfare to achieve happiness [4]. Others suggest that it is related to the rise of Generation Health who is obsessed with improving their quality of life [5]. One statistic has become clear over the last decade: more and more people are suffering from mental health issues. Stress and anxiety are now common reasons for people to feel physically and mentally unwell.

 

Wellbeing

 

 

Wellbeing in the Workplace

 This is especially apparent in the workplace where employees are taking days off due to their inability to manage stress and anxiety. It is currently estimated in the UK that 40% of all work-related illnesses are linked to stress. And a US study revealed that 83% of Americans were too stressed to go into work at least once this year [6]. The sources of stress and anxiety in the workplace have been linked to excessive pressure, with too many priorities and targets, workload, and poor relationships between colleagues and managers [7].

And then there is the hidden cost associated with the poor mental health of employees. A report calculates that it costs UK employers a staggering £45 billion every year and it is estimated that US businesses lose up to $300 billion due to workplace stress. The costs consist of higher numbers of sick days but also of higher rates of presenteeism. This new term characterises the behaviour of someone going into work whilst being mentally or physically ill and not performing to their full ability. This indirect cost to the employer is seen as the most concerning and the hardest to mitigate.

Young professionals are particularly vulnerable and are reported to experience more stress than any other segment of the population. It is tricky to pin down all the reasons as to why; a number of studies point to social media and the always-on news cycles. In addition to online pressure, the young generation also suffers from loneliness. A recent survey shows that 67% of young employees have worse mental health as a result of feeling lonely. This is furthered by 82% of respondents saying that spending time face-to-face with other people would improve their mental health. These concerning reports are not only valid for today’s cohort of young professionals but also for future ones. It appears that today’s 11-15-year-olds are 57% more anxious than those of the 1990s.

 

The Digital Solutions

 The surge in mental health problems has however contributed to the boom in digital services to help manage and cure a spectrum of mental illnesses. In 2018 alone, 3,400 apps were registered as Self-Care on mobile platforms and as of this year there are around 97,000 health apps available for download on the App Store and Google Play Store [8]. More companies and organisations from small to large now allocate a budget towards the welfare of their employees. From gym memberships and flexible working hours to cinema tickets, employers are trying to respond to the demands of their employees. Despite all this, it seems that people are taking the issue into their own hands and are turning to consumer services.

Headspace and Calm are two of the most widely downloaded apps for self-care [9]. They both use a combination of mindfulness and meditation practices to improve the user’s wellbeing. Yogaia, another service, specialises in online Yoga sessions with live classes and meditation videos. It offers courses for beginners and for the more advanced with trained coaches and daily check-ups. The idea behind all these services isn’t necessarily to cure people with mental and physical illnesses but rather prevent them. The real danger is for people to get into a vicious circle of anxiety and stress which can ultimately lead to burnout. This is why these services are trying to stop the pattern and implement healthy habits such as daily stretching, yoga and fitness but also gratefulness and breathing exercises. Daily notifications and reminders are used to push users to adopt a better lifestyle and prevent the onset of severe illness.

Another advantage (which is particularly relevant today) of these services is their ability to be used anywhere. From outside in the park to inside at home, you can do your daily exercises wherever and whenever suits you best. Moreover, most apps like Yogaia and Calm do not require you to have any “extras” to help you get healthier. All you need is a mat and you can easily get through their programs and achieve the intended results.

The question is, can these apps actually improve your wellbeing? According to Headspace, people who use their service show engagement levels comparable to Spotify. Scientific studies have also shown that the use of Headspace improved focus by 14 per cent [10]. Another study from Northwestern University found significant increases in compassion and reduced aggression from people who had been using it for 3 weeks [11]. Sleepio is another app which focuses on tackling insomnia and was headlined for passing a successful NHS trial. Through improving people’s sleep, the participants “saw a 68% recovery rate from anxiety and depression symptoms compared with an NHS average of 45%” [12]. A more general study into the efficacy of mental health mobile apps supports individual findings showing that depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia can be efficiently and effectively managed by digital services using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) [13]. These findings are a good indication that mobile apps can have a positive and real impact on your wellbeing.

 

New Solution to a New Problem

 The rise of mental health issues are and will be the biggest challenges for public health in the coming years. The current and future young generations seem to be the most vulnerable and they are calling for help. This outcry has led to a surge in new solutions that have changed the way we seek help and has opened up the conversation about mental health in the workplace. With new services being released yearly, there is now something for everyone everywhere.

 

Alexander Guild

 

 

 

 

 

[1]  Reynolds, E., 2020. Wellbeing Is A Nice Buzzword. But When Employers Use It, Ask Why | Emily Reynolds, the Guardian

[2] Cdc.gov. 2020. Well-Being Concepts | HRQOL | CDC

[3] Keywords.pitt.edu. n.d. Keywords Project | Well-Being

[4] Dodge, R., Daly, A., Huyton, J. and Sanders, L., 2012. The challenge of defining wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2(3), pp.222-235.

[5] Joffe, E., Turner, D., 2017. The rise of “Generation Health”. [online] Techcrunch

[6] Heckman, W., 2019. 42 Worrying Workplace Stress Statistics – The American Institute Of Stress. [online] The American Institute of Stress.

[7] Deloitte United Kingdom. 2020. Mental Health And Employers: Refreshing The Case For Investment. [online]

[8]  Anon, 2020. App Samurai | The Rise Of Mobile Health Apps. [online] Appsamurai.com.

[9] Perez, S., 2018. Self-care apps are booming. [online] Techcrunch

[10] Bennike, I.H., Wieghorst, A. & Kirk, U. Online-based Mindfulness Training Reduces Behavioral Markers of Mind Wandering. J Cogn Enhanc 1, 172–181 (2017).

[11]Lim, D., Condon, P. and DeSteno, D., 2015. Mindfulness and Compassion: An Examination of Mechanism and Scalability. PLOS ONE, 10(2), p.e0118221.

[12] Fleming, A., 2016. Can Apps Improve Your Mental Wellbeing? the Guardian

[13] Chandrashekar, P., 2018. Do mental health mobile apps work: evidence and recommendations for designing high-efficacy mental health mobile apps. mHealth, 4, pp.6-6.

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