Marteka Swaby of Benevolent Health works closely with the NHS identifying opportunities to use emerging technology to address mental health issues. One in four people in the UK suffer from a mental health episode during their lifetime however only 11% of the National Health budget is spent on mental health. Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issues in the UK and affect 1 in 10 children. They are difficult to treat because so many of these are caused by environmental factors that are very specific to the individual. Furthermore, referrals to treatment such as talking therapies is lengthy, limited and very expensive. This is where technology can have an immediate effect. Marteka took us through some pilot projects which triage patients through a series of questions assessing the mental wellbeing. Depending on the outcome it can accelerate access to treatment pathways or provide mechanisms for self-help. If, through technology we can address and provide support for those suffering mental health issues we can reach more people, immediately and cost-effectively and the socio-economic impact can be reduced. Pilot programmes are already being run using CBT and AI in apps, resources targeted at the new generation of children born into technology. There is even a question of whether AR and VR could be used to simulate ECT electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) used to treat severely depressed patients and eventually replace it.
If mental health issues are costing the UK economy 168 million lost working days it is self-evident that investing in building technological solutions to address them is a huge opportunity and will be a big growth area.
I was delighted to have an opportunity to speak to Viola Sommer, COO of Auticon – an IT consultancy that only employs highly skilled consultants with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The technology sector particularly lends itself to the unique cognitive skills of people with autism. Excelling and surpassing the majority of their neurotypical colleagues at pattern recognition, logical and analytical thinking as well as sustained concentration on often repetitive tasks. Their eye for detail allows them to easily spot errors and quality issues. When seeking solutions to a problem an autistic team member can bring a completely fresh perspective to that of their neurotypical team members with frankness and honesty. In fact, Auticon has a number of loyal clients who come back again and again for this unique skill set, for example, to provide a fresh independent bottom-up review of all bank’s security protocols.
Whilst the benefits of neurodiverse teams are clear there is scant understanding of or adaptation made in the vast majority of workplaces to meet the specific needs of autistic employees. As a result the stresses of trying to adapt and conform to the expected social norms of the modern workplace results in high levels of anxiety and depression, which often lead to unemployment and increased mental health issues. Auticon directly seeks to address this by getting people out of long-term unemployment and into highly skilled and valued work. Consultants are supported with professional coaching to adapt to the client’s environment, but crucially Auticon also coaches the clients and ensures the environment has been appropriately adapted to the needs of their consultants. It’s a win-win-win. Employees benefit from the coaching and support of the Auticon team who develop individual strategies for each employee as well as gaining improved well-being from inclusion and employment. Clients benefit by augmenting their teams with specific skillsets, improving quality, whilst being supported to get the very best out the consultants. Society benefits by reducing the burden on the state of long term unemployment and associated health issues. I hope one day all companies will embrace and adapt to a neurodiverse workforce, everyone will benefit, but in the meantime, Auticon will pave the way to teach us how it should be done.
Every organisation undergoes change, it is never easy, and in spite of the best intentions and planning, it often fails. One of the most common impacts of change is a significant reduction in employee engagement. Becca Brighty deconstructed the neuroscience that lies behind the brain’s response to change. She explained how to minimise the threat response and maximise the reward response to ensure staff remain engaged throughout the process.
Where there is uncertainty the pain and fear areas of the brain are activated. When the brain is in survival – or fight or flight – mode all but the most essential functions are switched off. Uncertainty causes anxiety, forgetfulness, lack of engagement. The brain simply can’t be productive, inventive or think creatively.
Humans are also tribal by nature and the colleagues who were part of a person’s ‘tribe’ can become a threat during periods of change, disrupting the delicate social structures of the workplace.
When there is certainty the reward areas of the brain are triggered. The brain needs to be able to predict outcomes. When change initiatives are open and transparent and are aligned to company values and culture the brain can jump to the right conclusions and help reinforce the intended outcomes of the change. With a shared vision and values, colleagues are more likely to bond as a tribe rather than see each other as threats. Similarly increasing social activities during periods of change reinforces company culture, strengthens connections and the tribe mentality.