June 13, 2022

Study shows tech-based program improves workers’ mental health, productivity

Employers are spending millions of dollars on programs to improve the mental well-being of their employees, though it’s not always clear how well the programs are working.

A new peer-reviewed study is showing that at least one program is making a difference.

Published June 9 in JAMA Network Open, the study found improvements in mental health in nearly 70% of the participants in a workplace program developed by New York-based startup Spring Health. The study also found that companies saved money using the Spring Health program, a factor likely to weigh more heavily as employers confront inflation and other financial pressures in the months ahead.  

The study examined 1,132 people using the Spring Health platform to address anxiety or depression between January 2018 and January 2021. Among those who disclosed their gender, nearly three-quarters, or 71.8%, were women. About three-fifths, or 57.8% were White. The average age was 32.9.

As a result of interventions arranged through Spring Health, 69.3% of the participants saw improvements in their mental health. The study also found that participants missed fewer days of work and were more productive at work, resulting in average savings of $7,000 per participant.

Further, employees in the study were 60% less likely to leave their job, a key consideration for employers at a time of high turnover. 

Founded in 2016, Spring Health uses machine learning algorithms to predict which treatments will work for which individual. The company then matches people with the right resources, whether it is a psychiatrist, a prescription medication or some other intervention. Its customers, numbering more than 800, are primarily large employers, according to Spring Health’s co-founder and president — Adam Chekroud

Chekroud and other Spring Health employees were among the co-authors of the study. Three co-authors were solely affiliated with Yale University. He said the results may not apply to other mental health startups given the diversity of approaches among the various startups. 

“I think the employers are going to get more and more savvy about this, especially as the market and the economy tightens,” said Adam Chekroud in an interview. “There’s going to be higher scrutiny on whether the money that they’re spending is generating returns. It’s important that companies buy things that work”

While the results may not apply to other competing products, the plethora of mental health tech companies — be it BetterHelp, NeuroFlow, Octave, Pyx Health and Talkspace — can take heart in the efficacy of tech tools in behavioral healthcare. Chekroud believes, the study helps set a precedent for the industry overall.

And given the damage the pandemic has wrought on our collective mental health, employees’ demand for help is likely to continue even if the economy slows down, he added. According to a survey this year by the Society for Human Resource Management, 78% of employers offer mental health benefits or are planning to in the next year.

“Recession or no recession, mental health problems are not going away,” he said.
An overwhelming majority of HR professionals, 94%, believe the programs improve overall employee health, according to the SHRM survey. Nearly nine in 10, or 88%, believe the programs increase productivity.

There are plenty of programs to choose from. Over the last few years, investors have sunk millions of dollars into startups that promise to improve mental health by harnessing high-tech tools. However, observers have questioned how well the tools work and whether they can overcome issues with access to care and reimbursement. 

Photo: metamorworks, Getty Images

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