New Channels for Supporting Your Employees’ Wellbeing
Mental health conditions can have profound personal, occupational, and social consequences for the one in five North Americans who experience them every year. For employers, these consequences have measurable economic impacts due to employee absenteeism, presenteeism (being at work but being disengaged, distracted or unfocused), accidents, turnover, inter-personal conflicts with customers, co-workers and supervisors, and workers’ compensation and disability claims. For those who experience these conditions, they can diminish their happiness, inhibit them from achieving their potential, and, at the very worst, even result in suicide.
Yet for various reasons, many mental health conditions go undiagnosed and untreated. For those who are getting treatment, it is often not optimal treatment. Ironic, since treatment for mental health conditions has never been more effective. To compound this matter many mental health conditions cannot be “cured.” Just as physical conditions like hypertension, many mental health conditions must be managed over time with some level of outside support. When done so successfully, those with them learn to manage their condition and lead happy, productive, and fulfilling lives. However, to receive support, it’s not always practical to access a mental health professional. These facts have led mental health professionals to develop new ways for consumers to get mental support and to get that support conveniently.
One type of innovation to obtain mental health support is digital solutions including mobile device-based services to support mental health and to even serve as an adjunct to therapy and counseling. When mental health professionals have asked consumers about their preferences for support, a majority expressed interest in using digital applications to help manage their mental health. Some said that aside from barriers like costs and inconvenience, they simply find it difficult to talk with others about sensitive personal issues and concerns.
Professionals were also guided by research that showed digital solutions when used for a period of as little as two weeks can significantly reduce mental health distress, specifically the very common symptoms of depressed mood and feelings of anxiety. Developers of such services also knew that their solutions could be made highly cost-effective, scalable, convenient and on-demand, thereby reaching millions in need.
Tess, an AI chatbot for support of our wellbeing:
At Espyr, we wanted to offer such a supportive and convenient digital solution- one that was also confidential and clinically sound. We selected a chatbot named Tess. Psychologists at a company called X2AI (X2) developed Tess after much research and interviews with counselors, coaches, and consumers. The result was a customizable, artificial-intelligence-enabled, mental health chatbot with an enormous repertoire of responses based on a mainstream therapy approach called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT.
CBT is a form of widely practiced talk therapy that has been shown to be effective for a wide range of issues such as depression, anxiety, marital problems and much more. It’s based on the core principles that psychological problems occur in part because of faulty ways of thinking result in learned patterns of unhelpful behaviors. And that patterns of thinking and behaving can be changed, and better problem-solving skills can be learned.
“As simple and convenient as texting a friend,” is one way to describe the ease of using Tess. Available 24/7, users don’t have even have to download a mobile app; they simply initiate conversations with Tess by texting her (Researchers named the chatbot Tess after learning that a short feminine sounding name made the chatbot more accessible to potentials users.)
Users may disclose as little or as much as they wish and may discontinue conversations with Tess at any time and may resume them at any time. Users always control the dialogues with Tess.
Tess is both confidential and anonymous- two important considerations to help users feel comfortable. Tess never requires users’ name or any other personal information. The chatbot learns from the interactions with the users and makes the experience more and more personalized as it gets to know the user and their issues.
Tess is also clinically sound. It is able to engage in over 3,000,000 unique dialogues, guided by CBT principles. The chatbot learns about the user as dialogues continue, enabling the texting conversations to become more and more personalized. This “helpful friend” can help users manage the stress of daily life and build resiliency. It can help users cope with grief and loss; teach self-care and mindfulness techniques; help address social isolation, loneliness, or burnout; and provide supportive conversations to increase the user’s emotional wellbeing. Though not a crisis intervention tool per se, Tess can detect a crisis and offer crisis intervention resources, and even alert Espyr’s 24/7 counseling team who can then reach out to the anonymous user who may be in extreme distress.
Most importantly, does Tess actually work? The answer is a resounding Yes! Over 30,000 surveys of users tell us this. In fact, over 90% of these users say it has helped them reduce symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Who can benefit from using an AI chatbot?
Most anyone who wants to understand their emotions and interactions with others can benefit from using Tess, but some people find Tess to be particularly helpful.
One group are those people in therapy today. Given its capabilities, Tess can be a helpful adjunct or additional supportive service for those consumers already engaged with a mental health professional. It can help users achieve their therapy goals. We encourage users who are in therapy to tell their therapist about Tess so its value can be maximized. For those who have had therapy in the past, Tess can help them sustain and build on their progress in therapy.
But Tess can also serve as a standalone resource in and of itself. For example, it can support the emotional wellbeing of professional or personal caregivers—a large and growing group of people that are subject to unique and daily stresses and at risk for burnout. It can also assist people who find themselves in positions of social isolation due to occupational or personal reasons, such as professional truck drivers whose occupation routinely forces them to be away from their friends and loved ones for long periods of time. Or for individuals whose personal circumstances have led to isolation from family and friends.
AI chatbots are a new resource entering your toolkit to support the wellbeing of your workforce. Talk with your assistance or wellness services vendor to learn more about AI enabled chatbot and related channels of digital support that may be right for your employees.
Psychological Artificial Intelligence Service, Tess: Delivering On-demand Support to Patients and Their Caregivers: Technical Report
Monitoring Editor: Alexander Muacevic and John R Adler
Cureus. 2019 Jan; 11(1): e3972.
Published online 2019 Jan 28. doi: 10.7759/cureus.3972
National Library of Medicine
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