Margot Radicati, founder of Skype therapy platform YourMind, explores how her journey with mental health led to the development of a technology solution that helps others with their own mental wellbeing.
My five years working as a management consultant taught me many things: to work with and manage a team, to successfully deliver projects on a tight deadline, to meet clients’ needs and expectations, and much more.
Most importantly, I learned about the importance of mental wellbeing in the workplace and the extent to which it can affect motivation, performance and overall atmosphere within a company.
Like many of my peers, my early twenties were characterised by long working hours, 'free' evenings and weekends spent constantly glancing at my Blackberry, a pressure to look like I was working hard even when I wasn’t and intense bi-yearly review processes.
As a result, I was constantly stressed. The lack of work-life balance combined with the pressure to perform meant that, even when I had time off, I found it hard to unwind and therefore never felt refreshed after a weekend or holiday.
The stress finally caught up with me and my morning commutes started to be plagued by anxiety attacks. Full carriages would make me hyperventilate, a train stuck between two stations would compel me to start to speak to a stranger next to me and plane journeys would require a full preparation of Spotify playlists and homeopathic relaxation cures.
Thankfully, I have always been tuned in to mental health thanks to my anxious nature and my psychologist mother, so when these feelings started, I knew what was going on and knew how and where to seek help.
Taking the time to get help and look after myself was not easy given the nature of my job. Leaving early to see a therapist was not always possible and looking after myself was something that I did not feel was important enough to bring up at work.
Nevertheless, with some help the anxiety attacks slowly started to decrease and eventually disappeared.
Prioritising mental wellbeing will be economically beneficial for employers in the medium term.
Although I was lucky enough to have a moderately flexible job and understanding bosses, I knew well that others weren’t in the same situation. As I spoke to friends and colleagues, I realised that many around me were struggling with stress, anxiety and depression yet were ashamed to discuss it, did not know where to turn for help, and simply did not have the time or flexibility to look after themselves.
I decided to create YourMind, a platform on which users can speak to therapists over Skype, to help tackle the ever-increasing issue of mental health by overcoming three key obstacles that separate many of us from our mental wellbeing: time, money and stigma.
Overcoming practical obstacles: time and money
For most people, lack of time is one of the main obstacles to seeking help. In a world where our desk jobs prevent us from running basic errands like picking up our laundry, and where seeing a GP is a juggling act, how could anyone justify taking time out to look after their mental wellbeing? The time required to get to a therapy appointment alone is enough to dissuade most people from seeking help.
Another issue is money. With rents soaring and the cost of life increasing, many people struggle to save anything at all. In an era where job certainty is a thing of the past, many people feel like prioritising their mental wellbeing over savings for a potential rainy day is self-indulgent.
Driving a change in the perception of mental health is a responsibility that lies, in part, with employers.
These practical hurdles can be at least in part eliminated if employers play the role of enablers to mental wellbeing. In practice, this would mean enabling flexible working (where possible and within reason) to ensure that employees can go to a therapy or doctor appointment during working hours.
Alternatively, they could arrange for therapists on site or set up an employee assistance programme (EAP) where online or phone counselling is subsidised. Although this obviously has cost implications which are by no mean negligible, several studies have shown that mental health issues impact attrition, productivity and days lost at work.
As a result, prioritising mental wellbeing will be economically beneficial for employers in the medium term.
Overcoming the mindset obstacle: stigma
It is no news that mental health still carries enormous stigma. Seeking help has traditionally been seen as a sign of weakness and, although that is changing, we still have a very long way to go.
Driving a change in the perception of mental health is a responsibility that lies, in part, with employers. If employees feel that their HR department and management team value wellbeing, they are more likely to value it themselves.
Many companies offer EAPs with Skype or phone counselling, yet few people make use of these services. This comes down to the attitude and language used to address mental health. Employees are unlikely to sign up for counselling if they feel like EAPs are a tick-box exercise and worry that they will be judged by their managers.
Delivering mental wellbeing training and running wellbeing initiatives in companies is a key step towards changing mindset. These should be carefully tailored to the culture of the company so that they feel genuine, and should be accompanied by extensive communication. Once employees feel like HR and senior leaders are bought in, they will be more comfortable committing time to their mental wellbeing.
Beyond technology: communication is key
Many companies are starting to take mental wellbeing more seriously. Whether it’s because they realise that it has a direct impact on performance and attrition, or whether they simply do it for the good of their employees is unimportant. The result is that more people are encouraged to value their mental wellbeing as much as their physical wellbeing.
I feel very lucky to be part of this movement and to be able to help companies to deliver solutions to their employees. I am convinced that, although technology is a great enabler, communication and messaging are what will drive change in this space.
I look forward to continue to evolve YourMind to cater to the needs of different companies by providing the online platform as well as the strategy, ideas and newsletters required to deliver solutions.