World Mental Health Day: the state of the tech industry

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Today marks World Mental Health Day - a day dedicated to global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma. While countries around the globe recognise the importance of mental health, it is important to note that there is still more to do in the tech industry.

According to UK-based mental health charity Mind, around one in four people experience mental health problems every year. How can the tech industry tackle the insidious nature of poor mental health?

The prevalence of burning out

Silicon Valley is infamous for breeding a culture of burning out, stress, and overworking. However, this dangerous set of values can often permeate into other tech environments. Stress and burning out may be perceived as a mere occupational hazard for those working in tech, a survey from the anonymous employee message board app Blind revealed. From a pool of 11,000 employees at 30 of the largest tech companies, 57.16% admitted that they are currently suffering from a work related burnout. Recent research shows that these relentless work environments breed and encourage unreasonably long hours, unattainable high levels of productivity and unfairly favour young people. High levels of stress can also lead to additional health complications. This new research is certainly worrying, but not exactly surprising. A survey conducted by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace found that 46% of HR leaders believe that employee burnout contributes to up to half of their annual workforce turnover.

Champions of mental health awareness

A former Uber executive has launched a therapy app after Silicon Valley caused him "severe anxiety." Andrew Chapin has raised almost £4 million for an app that allows users to book sessions with trained but unlicensed mental health specialists. Dubbed "Basis", the app intends to counter high levels of stress in the workplace - a familiar concept to Chapin. "The idea of seeing a therapist felt too clinical for my situation; I just needed help dealing with the everyday challenges of being human," he said. In a similar vein, the independent creative agency Cult has launched a voice app offering support to people suffering from panic attacks and anxiety. "Mindscape" combines AI, voice technology, and neuroscience-based music therapy. Cult’s creative technologist, Jen Heape, said “Mindscape pushes the boundaries of voice not only in its unique pairing of voice technology, AI and neuroscience-based music therapy, but also in the detail of the dialogue structure itself." She added "we have pushed Alexa’s native voice as far as we can using SSML rather than simply falling back on a recorded voice over, which means that we can make agile amends at any time, while still maintaining a controlled tonality."

How can the tech industry do better?

Companies that support their employee's mental health could benefit from a rise in profits. According to researchers at Soma Analytics, a health tech company, UK firms that mention “wellbeing” and “mental health” the most frequently in their annual reports also receive the highest pre-tax profits. Online services and mobile apps are easily accessible and can be used to improve mental wellbeing. Chatrooms, online GP services, AI, and virtual reality are also handy when it comes to tackling stress. According to Accenture, 39% of people use technology to manage their mental health. The survey of over 2,000 workers in the UK found that 46% of these people had experienced mental health issues. The tech industry is innovative when it comes to providing technological solutions to our everyday needs. However, it is evident that we need to do more to alleviate the stresses of working life.

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