In the US, the average delay between the onset of mental health symptoms and receiving care is 11 years. And that’s for people who actually seek care — the majority of people never even make it that far. One reason for this delay is stigma. Despite the public’s steadily improving mental health literacy, and the efficacy of available interventions, people remain hesitant to seek care.
Unfortunately, stigma is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. But the evidence supporting the emotional and economic impact of untreated mental health difficulties continues to grow, driving benefits leaders to more deeply invest in supporting employee mental health. To help achieve this, a more indirect approach might be needed. Sleep — and the benefits associated with getting enough of it — offers a less stigmatized way to positively impact the mental health and resilience of your workforce.
Employees that sleep better feel happier and worry less
Around 20% of US adults struggle with insomnia and an even greater percentage report getting less than seven hours sleep per night. The effects of a single or several nights of poor sleep are (unfortunately) known to most of us. We struggle to concentrate, feel motivated, or carry out most tasks efficiently during the work day. Our mood suffers, and rather unfairly, poor sleep also blunts the tools available to help us effectively cope with daily stresses.
“Given that everyone sleeps, employees are often more comfortable receiving support for sleep than mental health. Providing them with an opportunity to discuss sleep and its improvement offers a non-stigmatized route to improving employee mental health.”
We now know that the relationship between sleep and mental health goes both ways: Poor sleep exacerbates mental health difficulties and vice versa. Common sleep problems such as insomnia are associated with an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and psychosis (for example hallucinations and paranoia). Improving sleep has been shown to be protective against depression both in the short and long term.
Given that everyone sleeps, employees are often more comfortable receiving support for sleep than mental health. Providing them with an opportunity to discuss sleep and its improvement offers a non-stigmatized route to improving employee mental health. Plus, promoting sleep health can also help improve employee’s general wellbeing and motivation.
Traditional mental health services have been disrupted
One of the barriers to receiving mental health care, which the COVID-19 pandemic has starkly illustrated, is access to services. According to a recent WHO report, there has been worldwide disruption to mental health services and as many as three in every four workplaces reported at least some disruption to their offered services. Self-directed stigma around mental health can also make it difficult for people to engage with care in a face-to-face setting. Digital interventions have been developed to reach those who prefer an alternative option when in-person therapy is inaccessible. Providing a way for employees to cope with poor sleep using cognitive and behavioral techniques in a digital format improves symptoms of insomnia, reduces stress, and the severity of depression symptoms. Not to mention, digital interventions are more cost effective than traditional in-person care.
“According to a recent WHO report, there has been worldwide disruption to mental health services and as many as three in every four workplaces reported at least some disruption to their offered services.”
Evidence-based digital sleep interventions such as Sleepio, put the tools to improve sleep — and in turn mental health — in the hands of your employees. Plus, they may feel more comfortable using a digital solution in the privacy of their own home.
There is no single, simple solution to improve the mental health of your employees – particularly in light of the stigma that still surrounds the topic. However, providing alternative solutions through more socially acceptable routes will help you meet employees where they are on their journey to care. Sleep, with its intimate bidirectional relationship to mental health, is a prime candidate to do just that.
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