Using devices to monitor and analyze workplace mental health. Viable or unsettling?

Using devices to monitor and analyze workplace mental health. Viable or unsettling?

It might just be both. The conventional advice to a stressed out, teched outed person is to disconnect from their computer, phone, tablet, and smartwatch in order to find their “happy place” again. But with our increasing attachment to these devices in both a personal and professional capacity, will that advice only add to someone’s anxiety? Not only that, more and more app developers are taking advantages of our connectedness to help diagnose, track, and manage our mental well-being.

Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?

It started with physical health like fitness apps, reminding us to take more steps, monitor our heart rate, sleep patterns, set weight loss goals, and watch our friend’s progress for inspiration. Now software developers are taking that data and combining it across all your device platforms to do things like analyze impactful mood changes before you’re even conscious of them. The ability to self-diagnose with “digital therapists” (psychiatrists around the globe probably cringe) may make for more mentally and emotionally self-aware friends, family, and coworkers. And employers are starting to take notice.

The thought of your company monitoring your mental well-being might make you nauseous, but when 80% of all emotional health cases in 2014 were due to employee anxiety, stress, and depression (up from 55% in 2012), it just might be worth thinking about. “Just as data science and machine learning algorithms now colonize traditional business analytics and workplace attention, data-driven psychiatric research and mental health metrics will similarly reshape executive coaching, cognition, and emotional intelligence,” reports Michael Schrage in a recent article he wrote for the Harvard Business Review.

Dr. John Torous, who co-directs the Digital Psychiatry Program at BIDMC /Harvard Medical School, notes that, “we already have a wealth of clinical evidence that the data collected by smartphones, wearables, and even computer use patterns can offer new personalized insights into mental health and well-being. Transforming these technologies into apps or programs that people want to use and ensuring that data offers meaningful and actionable insights is now the focus of many active research investigations at Harvard Medical School as well as numerous other programs across the world.”

Obviously, there are innumerable privacy and security concerns that arise from this idea, but it’s hard to deny that it’s also thought-provoking. Depression, isolation, even workplace violence might be avoided or identified and treated earlier with such measures in place.

As someone deeply interested in data collection and analytics, my interest is piqued as my skin crawls simultaneously. How about you?

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