There’s a phrase that’s been around a while “a problem shared is a problem halved”. Commonly known to be a reassuring, it’s a comforting appeal for someone who’s bottling up their worries to share it with someone who can help them through.
The sentiment is lovely, but in a modern world that warns against “trauma dumping” and burdening others with private concerns, is there really a place for creating communities within the mental health space? Especially when we’re searching for workplace solutions that can actually help our people, what do we need to look out for and what could cause more harm than good?
Why are mental health communities precarious?
Communities by definition are a group of people with shared interests, traits, locations or commonalities. So, if we’re speaking about mental health communities, in all likelihood the shared aspect is going to be that everyone in that community is struggling or diagnosed with anxiety, depression, stress, burnout etc. This kind of unregulated, open community can create a scenario where the blind are leading the blind, causing more and more issues further down the line. This is obviously not the intent, however when it comes to people’s mental health, we cannot be too careful.
The problem is that many mental health solutions and apps offer a forum feature or chat section with other users, which is designed to offer encouragement between users and share progress. From a business perspective this is a great place to garner testimonials and see how much positive impact your app is having, and for some users this kind of external interaction can genuinely help.
This being said, these forums can quickly turn into a “who’s worse” competition, or alternatively like a lot of social media based features, a comparative network. This can be dangerous because as we know, much like our physical health, our mental health varies from person to person and we’re all on our own journey – comparing our progress to others may cause more harm than good.
But we can’t just do nothing. We have to talk about mental health.
We know that there is a considerable stigma that serves as a barrier to seeking mental health support, especially in the workplace. Having a sense of openness and constructive narrative around seeking help when at work can create a positive, safe environment. This includes offering comprehensive, versatile mental health solutions that can meet the needs of the many, unlike intensive, face to face therapy that can have lower uptake rates and longer waitlists.
The reason behind this being that many of us that struggle with the symptoms of mental health fall into what’s referred to as “mild to moderate” meaning that the majority of the time we don’t feel “bad enough” to warrant full therapy, but doing nothing is still not an option. Just because the uptake rate of a mental health solution is low doesn’t mean that there is a lack of issues within your cohort, it might mean you’re not offering the right solution.
One-to-one therapy and meditation apps have a lack of community in common – both are seemingly solo endeavours. This can often lead to users feeling alone in their mental health struggles, something which is unlikely to result in the positive mindset necessary for meaningful change. Despite this, we know that group online therapy or forums can be a barrier for many due their lack of anonymity, so what is the solution?
Can we have anonymity and community?
Well, anonymity is crucial – after all we need to feel like we’re in a safe space to explore our issues and try and find solutions – however we need to create an environment where the user doesn’t feel alone – as if they’re part of a community.
This juxtaposition is something that is fast becoming a requirement for modern mental health solutions, particularly those that are used at workplace offerings. New mental health web app, Leafyard, has tapped into this due to their experience in the behavioural science field.
“In reality, there are people out there, every single day, who are recovering from anxiety, stress and depression. Leafyard shows you the science behind the things they did to feel better. If you do the same things, you stand every chance of feeling better too.” says co-founder, Jon Davies.
The reason that many workplace mental health solutions fail or have low engagement is mostly down to one of two reasons. Firstly, they lack anonymity either because they’re in person therapy or that the sign up process has to be done through work systems. By implementing processes in this way, you’re already alienating your employees as they don’t want their health data or information to be used against them in the future. Even if this is not the case, the thought is there, thus providing a barrier to the necessary support. Interventions need to be anonymous and they need to be separate from workplace platforms, systems and emails.
Secondly, the intervention has to be at the right level for the majority of users. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to get a solution to fit everyone, but having something adaptable that offers mental fitness as well as mild to moderate support can help a wide swath of your population.
Using AI for good
Leafyard’s artificial intelligence calculates adaptive strategies for the individual and guidance switches from CBT, mindfulness, exercise, diet, sleep, journaling, visualisation and much, much more. The artificial intelligence is also clever enough to control the strength of guidance – offering appropriate levels of intervention and support to users whilst remaining 100% anonymous.
This way, the behavioural science foundation of Leafyard – which is what sets it apart – is seeking to solve and alleviate the stigma surrounding workplace mental health. It does this by creating a sense of community while maintaining user anonymity. Instead of creating forums or using real time chat therapy, Leafyard offers a series of regular videos that will teach you how to cope with stress, increase happiness, build resilience and confidence. Understand why your biology and chemistry make you feel the way you do, and most importantly what you can do to help change it.
The chosen presenter of these videos acts as a trusted guide, shepherding users along a strict timeline of positive progression, with an action plan and strategies for making these new positive behaviours stick. They remind you at regular intervals that people experience change every day by doing the things in Leafyard and if you do the same, you stand every chance of feeling better too. In doing so, it creates a feeling of inclusion and community similar to that of Peloton, Nike Run, and other digital communities, where although action is taken on a solo level, you feel like you’re part of a wider community, all striving towards the same end goal – and that’s a powerful behavioural motivator.
So, with the question of should we be creating a sense of community in the mental health space, the answer of course is yes, but what is key here is the word sense. Actual communities created via forums, group therapies and other solutions where performative, comparative attitudes can affect the individual progress, and in some cases, cause further damage.
Feeling like you’re not alone in having the symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress is massively important. Having the reassurance that other people have felt better practicing certain strategies and techniques can really help focus a positive mindset. These psychological and behavioural aspects have a concrete and neurological impact on how we perform. It all comes down to what we believe we can do and how we expect to fare, given the information we have.
Often it’s hard to find a way forward.
By understanding the changes that other people have made to their habits, thoughts and feelings we can apply the same changes in our own lives. The fact is – people feel better every day, and they can too.
So, when you’re looking for your next workplace mental health solution, consider what actually works. What are people actually going to sign up to and engage with. What is actually going to make your people feel better.
Get a solution that drives action. Leafyard can help to change how your people think and feel.