If you’re experiencing a mental health issue, one of the people you probably least want to speak to about it is your employer. Disclosing depression or anxiety has long been seen as the last workplace taboo, for fear of repercussions. This is despite the existence of the Equality Act 2010, which protects employees with physical and mental disabilities from discrimination.
But just over a third of workers with a mental health condition discuss it with their employer, according to a survey of 1,388 employees carried out by Willis PMI Group, one of the UK’s largest providers of employee healthcare and risk management services. The research found that 30% of respondents were concerned that they wouldn’t receive adequate support, 28% believed their employer wouldn’t understand, and 23% feared that disclosing it would lead to management thinking less of them.
A culture of fear and silence can have a huge impact on productivity – the charity Mind estimates [pdf] that mental ill health costs the economy £70bn a year. The challenge is that seeking help involves taking ownership of the problem, says Mark Brown, development director of social enterprise Social Spider and founder of the now defunct mental health and wellbeing magazine One in Four. And finding support online can be a time-consuming and frustrating experience.
“Just serving up ever great slabs of information – the internet is awash with it – isn’t going to help anyone to know what to do,” says Brown. “We often confuse the provision of information with the solving of problems. Knowing information is different from knowing how to put that information into action.”
Brown believes that bringing together information with public and open data into a single digital space is one way that could innovate how advice is delivered.
Plexus is aiming to achieve just this. Built by the digital studio M/A, with funding from the Open Data Institute, the knowledge base is being used to design resources for people with mental health conditions, their families, and even employers, to find support available in local areas, seek advice on how best to cope with returning to work after a period off and understand employee rights and employer responsibilities.
Plexus has pooled data from a couple of dozen organisations including NHS Choices, Department for Work and Pensions, the Office for National Statistics and Citizens Advice. In some cases the information has been pulled from APIs; in other instances it has been scraped using web data platform import.io.
The first tool Plexus developed is a chatbot called Grace, which is currently in beta testing. It enables users to record thoughts and feelings anonymously, receive feedback in the form of a newsletter and log in to an online dashboard to see a more detailed analysis, including whether there are any patterns in mood emerging over a period of time. The tool also offers guidance from the various governmental and charity websites under easy-to-navigate sections, such as legal rights and preparing for work.