Science reveals upside of eLearning for better mental health

Science reveals upside of eLearning for better mental health

Organisations are increasingly aware of the impact of mental health issues in the workplace – the problems and the opportunities. In workplaces that are considered “mentally unhealthy”, there’s a much higher incidence of stress, anxiety and depression.

“20% of Australians take time off work because of stress, anxiety and depression. In workplaces considered to be mentally unhealthy, the number more than doubles, to 46%!” – Medibank Private industry study 2008

This leads to lost productivity through absenteeism as well as presenteeism (a term used to describe people who show up at work but are not fully capable of performing successfully in their roles). Added to these losses is the cost of recruitment to replace underperforming employees as well as a sharp rise in workers compensation claims associated with workplace stress.

Studies show clear benefits to the bottom line

The evidence is consistent and compelling. Numerous industry studies and research reviews have demonstrated real benefits to employees and organisations where there is a mentally healthy culture at work. A 2014 study by TNS and beyondblue found that the rate of absenteeism almost halves, to 13%, in organisations that workers consider to be “mentally healthy”.

But are organisations delivering on mental health?

According to research, there’s an enormous gap between what workers want and what organisations are seen to deliver. While 91% of workers think that mental health is important in the workplace, only 51% believe that their workplace is mentally healthy.

“Mentally healthy workplaces are as important to Australian employees as physically safe workplaces, however workplaces are not meeting their expectations.” -- State of Workplace Mental Health in Australia, 2014.

One way that many organisations seek to address their responsibility for the mental health of their workers is through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). These typically include policies, procedures and programs that can be accessed if needed. But low take up rates cloud the usefulness of EAP’s to address workers’ day-to-day needs.

Are EAPs appropriate for workplace stress management?

An IBIS report into the EAP industry pointed to an inconsistency between the number of workers experiencing mental health issues and number of workers that utilise EAPs.

“The EAP usage rate in certain industries could be as low as 5%.” – IBIS Industry Report, 2014

In any 12-month period, the IBIS Industry Report, 2014 shows 1 in 5 Australian workers, that’s 20%, experience a mental health issue. But, in certain industries, the utilisation rate of EAPs is as low as 5%! What could explain this discrepancy? Is it each organisation’s top-down commitment to mental health in the workplace? Is it that workers are reluctant to self-disclose their struggles with mental health (which might lead them to ‘self-medicate’ with alcohol or drugs)?

Our experience, borne out by scientific evidence, is that workplace wellness programs have to be designed, developed and delivered in an appropriate manner to achieve meaningful improvements at the level of the individual.

Specialised design delivers effective results

Programs like Unwind, a self-paced eLearning program developed in partnership with Medibio, combines expertise in learning design with an in-depth understanding of evidence-based psychological techniques for improving mental health in the workplace.

An independent University study has confirmed the ‘effect size’ (an objective measure of effectiveness for e-health programs) in users participating in the Unwind program that puts it in the higher range of positive outcomes for anxiety, depression and stress.

“The range of psychological interventions included in Unwind, are part of the reason for the excellent results.” – Dr Michael Player

Dr Michael Player, an expert in neuroplasticity and head of research at Medibio, explained why Unwind has shown such strong results.

“Whilst other programs tend to employ only one type of learning or therapeutic approach,” he said, “Unwind embraces a number of different psychological approaches such as mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, dialectical behavioural therapy, solution focused therapy, as well as psychosomatic and interpersonal effectiveness therapies.”

Content that connects with the audience

Even with the best intentions, a self-paced eLearning program will only be effective of it connects with its audience. The range of learning opportunities offered in Unwind ensures that it is able to connect to a wider audience, and allows users to improve their understanding of their mood and behaviour, and implement changes.

In the study of Unwind in a large Australian workplace, acceptance of the program was directly supported by user feedback. Learners reported higher completion rates, and higher user experience scores as they progressed through the modules.

Getting the program length just right

Another factor in the success of Unwind is its length. The program has seven self-contained modules that learners complete over a seven-week period, ideally one module per week. Research has shown that interventions lasting from five to eight weeks are the most successful in helping people improve their scores for depression, anxiety and stress.

Each Unwind module builds towards a cohesive whole. Throughout the program, learners begin to recognise what stress looks like for them individually. They utilise powerful, evidence-based stress-reduction techniques and track how they’re feeling. By the end of the program, they have developed a personalised wellbeing plan that brings together everything they’ve learned, keeping them on the path to better health – and a much happier and more productive life.

Want to know more?

Discover how your organisation can embrace workplace wellness in actionable ways through the Unwind interactive wellness eLearning series. Take a look at the Unwind series of ready-to-go modules available here.

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