Robots and chatbots can help alleviate the mental health epidemic

(Credit; Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Dan Schawbel, Managing Partner, Workplace Intelligence


COVID-19 has piled multiple additional pressures on to people’s mental health.

• AI is already providing assistance in the mental health domain.

• Having mental health technology in place is beneficial for employers as well as employees.

The global pandemic we’ve been dealing with since March has had a profound impact on our mental health. If this feels like the universe is piling on, it’s because it’s true. More than 264 million people worldwide suffer from depression, according to a January 2020 report from the World Health Organization.

Now, workers around the world say that 2020 has been the most stressful year in their lives, according to a new study by Workplace Intelligence, my research firm, and Oracle. Mental health isn’t a new issue, but COVID-19 has intensified and put a spotlight on our mental health problems.

Our study reveals some pretty stark facts:

• 70% of people have had more stress and anxiety at work this year than any other previous year.

• This increased stress and anxiety has negatively impacted the mental health of 78% of the global workforce, causing more stress (38%), a lack of work-life balance (35%), burnout (25%), depression from a lack of socialization (25%), and loneliness (14%).

• The new pressures presented by the global pandemic have been layered on top of everyday workplace stressors, including pressure to meet performance standards (42%), handling routine and tedious tasks (41%), and juggling unmanageable workloads (41%).

Work and life are blended

Because of the pandemic, a vast number of people are now working from home. Many of us have swapped offices and cubicles for living rooms and bedrooms. With no physical boundary between work and home, our personal lives have also been adversely affected.

An unhappy home life leads to even more depression, diminished productivity at work and yet more anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle.

Additionally, our daily commutes – what used to be a respite from the demands of both home and work – has been replaced by more work. The time we used to spend listening to music or podcasts or reading the paper has been filled with more Zoom meetings and late hours poring over spreadsheets.

Add to that a constant barrage of news (including political news during an election year in the US) about rising COVID-19 cases and death tolls, and the stress on our mental health becomes almost intolerable. Meanwhile, our society stigmatizes people who reveal their mental-health issues. Even someone as powerful as Dak Prescott was derided by some for talking about his anxieties.

Who wants to tell their boss they’re feeling burned out or spend less hours online than their colleagues?

Judgement-free technology

It’s thus no surprise that so many people (68%) said they would rather talk to a robot about their mental health issues than to their managers. For many of them (64%), robots and chatbots represent a judgement-free zone where they can seek information without exposing their weaknesses to bosses and colleagues.

A robot isn’t going to judge you, it’s not going to think about your past history – and it’s going to be available 24 hours a day. For example, if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed at 11pm at night, instead of worrying about how you’re going to talk to your manager about it the next day, you could instead “talk” to a robot or chatbot. From there, the technology can guide you to the best resources for support, such as providing tips for reducing stress, best practices for battling anxiety, or even referring you to a professional if needed.

In fact, technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and digital assistants are already helping to improve the mental health of 75% of the global workforce. Respondents said AI is providing them with the information they need to do their job more effectively (31%), automating tasks and decreasing workload to prevent burnout (27%), and reducing stress by helping to prioritize tasks (27%). Additionally, AI has helped the majority of workers shorten their work week (51%), take longer vacations (51%), increase productivity (63%), improve job satisfaction (54%), and improve overall well-being (52%).

Many companies are now offering virtual therapy sessions for their workforce, and licensing mental health apps their employees can access for free. Starbucks, for instance, offers their employees access to mental health support via self-guided online programs or video sessions with trained professionals. Starbucks also offers subscriptions to Headspace, the daily meditation and mindfulness app, to US and Canada partners.

A partnership between man and machine

This is important not just for employees, but for companies that want to attract and retain talent. Eighty-nine percent of employees would stay with an employer longer if they provided mental health support, and two-thirds wouldn’t work for a company that didn’t have a clear policy on supporting mental health, according to a November 2019 study by Aetna. A different study found that companies with mental-health programmes in place for one year had a median annual return of investment of $1.62 for every dollar invested.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes – promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

This isn’t to say that technology will replace human beings. Robots and chatbots can’t empathize with us, and they can’t even diagnose our mental illnesses. We still need human therapists – today, perhaps more than ever – but technology can supplement the valuable work of human beings. Because even therapists can feel anxiety, and they could use a little help from our robot friends.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

During the coronavirus pandemic, we must fight for LGBTQ rights more than ever

Final preparations for DCX and IFRA Expo 2019, in association with The European Sting

How two colossal Assyrian icons were recreated using digital tech

Libya: EU efforts should focus on protecting migrants, MEPs say

Difficulties of vaccination against COVID-19

EU takes again positive action on migration crisis while Turkey asks for dear favors in exchange for cooperation

Project Manager – 2024

Social media and the lack of information for blood donation

Commission welcomes provisional agreement on the European Climate Law

The EU to bear the cost of eventual sanctions against Russia

Saudi woman seeking asylum in Thailand ‘now in a secure place’ says UNHCR

A 550 km-long mass of rotting seaweed is heading for Mexico’s pristine beaches

Lack of investment and ambition means Youth Guarantee not reaching potential

This is the life of a refugee: the constant destruction and construction of dreams every day

This is where people live the longest in the EU

Nicaragua ‘crisis’ still cause for concern amid murder, torture allegations: Bachelet

This is our chance to completely redefine the meaning of work

European Green Deal: Commission presents actions to boost organic production

Green Deal: measures to step up the fight against global deforestation

These are the countries where most adults still don’t have a smartphone

It’s just electronic cigarette, don’t worry?

Historian Niall Ferguson on what the pandemic means for the global economy, geopolitics – and parties

Coronavirus response: Commission welcomes agreement on crucial VAT relief for vaccines and testing kits

Portuguese Presidency outlines priorities to EP committees

Romanian Presidency priorities discussed in committees

EU is now giving Google new monopolies to the detriment of European citizens and Internet companies

Mexico: UN chief saddened by pipeline blast in which dozens were killed

The 28 EU leaders show contempt for the European Elections results

Thursday’s Daily Brief: ambulance attack in Libya, #GlobalGoals defenders, human rights in Cambodia, Swine Fever

Pay Transparency: Commission proposes measures to ensure equal pay for equal work

This is how drones and other ‘tradetech’ are transforming international trade

Make no mistake: the purpose of business is to serve society

These are the top countries for travel and tourism in 2019

Rare Disease Day: a new EU platform to support better diagnosis and treatment

Spanish and Polish voters are crying out for an imminent European change while US urge now Germany to change route

EU co-ordinating the urgent delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to Moldova

Why global collaboration is needed to protect against a new generation of cyber threats

Does upgrading our minds mean losing the spark of genius?

This Brooklyn farm company is training a new generation of urban farmers

Countries are piling on record amounts of debt amid COVID-19. Here’s what that means

A brief history of cryptography and why it matters

Yemen: €95 million in EU humanitarian aid for people threatened by conflict and famine

Parliament: No consent to EU budget until €11.2 billion unpaid bills are settled

Chinese tech investors are turning towards MENA. Here’s why

Can Obama attract Iran close to the US sphere of influence?

How our Europe will regain its strength: op-ed by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

From underestimation to valorization: how mobile technology is transforming global health

The Khashoggi affair: A global complot staged behind closed doors

Safe spaces offer security and dignity for youth, and help make the world ‘better for all’: Guterres

Smart city experts should be looking to emerging markets. Here’s why

Brazil identifies a clear pathway for aligning its transfer pricing framework with the OECD standard

The public health system in Brazil as a promoter of sexual and reproductive health and rights: how does it help in the fight against HIV/AIDS?

Mountains matter, especially if you’re young, UN declares

At G20 Summit OECD’s Gurría says collective action vital to tackle global challenges

Top UN court orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya from genocide

How fungi could save the world

Why South Africa is on a path of economic renewal

Rule of Law: Commission launches infringement procedure to protect the independence of the Polish Supreme Court

Supply chains are on the cusp of a data-fed revolution. Here’s how businesses can succeed.

Global warming: our responsibility

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s