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Reaching the silent sufferers: digital therapeutics can fill the gap in mental healthcare

Digital therapeutics can reach the 70% of mental health sufferers not receiving care because they are stigma-free, engaging, accessible, consistent & effective.

Twenty percent of U.S. adults live with a mental illness.1 At your next company meeting take a second to scan the room, or screen. Let’s assume 10,000 people work at your company, that means 2,000 are suffering from a diagnosable mental health condition. But what’s even more shocking is that 70% (i.e. 1,400) of them are receiving absolutely no care—forcing them to suffer in silence.2

Traditional forms of mental healthcare were inadequate and fragmented before COVID-19—for example, sixty percent of U.S. counties don’t have a single practicing psychiatrist.3 And as the pandemic persists, the number of people experiencing poor mental health grows, forcing us to grapple not only with an increasingly overburdened mental healthcare system but societal beliefs that prevent 70% of people from receiving care.

But there is hope. Digital therapeutics (DTx) can effectively reach those suffering in silence and counterbalance the continuously widening gap between those experiencing poor mental health and those receiving care. In this blog, we uncover the 4 most commonly reported reasons why your employees are not seeking mental healthcare and the critical role digital therapeutics can play in reaching them.

1. Low perceived need: “I thought this was a normal part of life.”

Many employees simply don’t know that their struggles are mental health-related. Nearly half (44.8%) of Americans suffering from real, diagnosable mental health conditions do not seek care due to low perceived need.3 This stems from a core misunderstanding that mental health symptoms are just “part of life.”

Targeted and refined communication campaigns can reach employees who haven’t yet identified a “need” for mental health support. But the language is paramount. It must be stigma-free and approachable, using terminology that meets employees where they are on their journey to care. For example, we typically launch Sleepio (our DTx for poor sleep) with the “What is your sleep score?” campaign. There is no mention of treatment or insomnia, just an invitation to rate one’s sleep. Before even realizing it, the employee has received their personal sleep report and begun their journey to better sleep.

But it can’t stop there. The power of technology allows digital therapeutics to harness and create, what we call, “entertainment as medicine.” By creating delightful user experiences—through animation, voice, and video—digital therapeutics can help sufferers improve their mental health without them even realizing it.

2. Desire to self-help: “I don’t want to see a therapist, I prefer to handle this on my own.”

Even if employees recognize a need for help, talking to someone is hardly ever the first thing they want to do. Whether it is privacy or pride, research shows that roughly 75% of people who perceive a need for care choose not to seek it because they would rather help themselves.3 Fully automated (that means no humans!), digital therapeutics offer the best chance at enabling this desire for self-help. Accessible anytime, self-paced, and completely anonymous, DTx represent an unprecedented level of ease in mental healthcare.

But if an employee does decide to self-help it is important that they utilize care that is effective. This shift from in-person to digitized mental healthcare maintains quality rather than diminishes it. Digital therapeutics are required to demonstrate effectiveness with clinical evidence, such as randomized controlled trials (RCTs), to ensure they are safe, effective, and will work across a broad spectrum of populations. As a result, they can deliver consistent, high-quality, evidence-based care to each and every person.

3. Stigma: “What will people think of me if they find out?”

At stigma’s core is an employee’s fear: that coworkers will judge, that their job will be at risk, or that seeking care somehow makes them seem “weak.” Stigma has been a hot topic among employers because it’s visible, behavioral, and not unique to mental health—so it might surprise you to learn that stigma is cited less frequently than low perceived need and a desire to self help as reasons for not seeking care.

Digital therapeutics reduce the stigma surrounding mental health because they don’t require any human interaction, are completely anonymous, and can be accessed from the privacy of the employees home, at a time that works best for them. Gone are the days of employees tiptoeing out of the office to see their therapist or playing Tetris with their calendar to ensure they don’t miss a meeting.

4. Access: “There is no therapist near me, plus I have to wait weeks for an appointment.”

Even after facing all three previous barriers, an employee may decide to seek care via their EAP or behavioral health network and find themselves unable. The shortage of providers mentioned earlier, is pushing wait times to unacceptable levels. A study conducted by Cohen’s Veteran Network showed that 94 million Americans had to wait longer than one week for mental health services.5

Digital therapeutics are a uniquely scalable solution that can sidestep that shortage and eradicate wait times. As fully-automated software products, they’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So when an employee finally decides to seek help, they won’t end up on a therapist’s waitlist.

Next time you’re sitting on a Zoom call, look around at the faces of your employees. Which of them are suffering in silence from a mental health condition? Are they seeking help? If not, why? And then think: Can digital therapeutics reach my employees that are not currently seeking care?

To learn more about how you can reach the 70% suffering in silence download our report on low perceived need.

References:  

1. See National Institute of Mental Health website, Mental Health Information section. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml.

2. Kessler R. C., et al. (2005) Prevalence and treatment of mental disorders: 1990 to 2003. New England Journal of Medicine. 352(24): 2515–2523.

3. Mojtabai, R., et al. (2011). Barriers to Mental Health Treatment: Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Psychological Medicine, 41(8), 1751-1761.

4. See Good Therapy website, “Is There a Shortage of Mental Health Professionals in America?” Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/for-professionals/personal-development/become-a-therapist/is-there-shortage-of-mental-health-professionals-in-america.Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/.

5. America’s Mental Health 2018. Cohen Veterans Network and National Council for Behavioral Health. https://www.cohenveteransnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Research-Summary-10-10-2018.pdf

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During the COVID-19 public health emergency, Sleepio and Daylight are being made available as treatments for insomnia disorder and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), respectively, without a prescription. Sleepio and Daylight have not been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of insomnia disorder and GAD, respectively.

1. Qaseem, A., Kansagara, D., Forciea, M. A., Cooke, M., & Denberg, T. D. (2016). Management of chronic insomnia disorder in adults: a clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine, 165(2), 125-133.2. Riemann, D., Baglioni, C., Bassetti, C., Bjorvatn, B., Dolenc Groselj, L., Ellis, J. G., … & Spiegelhalder, K. (2017). European guideline for the diagnosis and treatment of insomnia. Journal of Sleep Research, 26(6), 675-700.3. Wilson, S., Anderson, K., Baldwin, D., Dijk, D. J., Espie, A., Espie, C., … & Sharpley, A. (2019). British Association for Psychopharmacology consensus statement on evidence-based treatment of insomnia, parasomnias and circadian rhythm disorders: an update. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 33(8), 923-947.4. King’s Technology Evaluation Centre. (2017, November 9). Overview: Health app: SLEEPIO for adults with poor Sleep: Advice. NICE. https://www.nice.org.uk/advice/mib129.5. Espie, C. A., Kyle, S. D., Williams, C., Ong, J. C., Douglas, N. J., Hames, P., & Brown, J. S. (2012). A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of online cognitive behavioral therapy for chronic insomnia disorder delivered via an automated media-rich web application. Sleep, 35(6), 769-781.6. Carl, J. R., Miller, C. B., Henry, A. L., Davis, M. L., Stott, R., Smits, J. A., … & Espie, C. A. (2020). Efficacy of digital cognitive behavioral therapy for moderate‐to‐severe symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Depression and Anxiety, 37(12), 1168-1178.

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