App aims to manage mental health in the workplace
Caroline Hoffart and her community partners are working to create tools to overcome workplace mental health hurdles and literally put them in people’s hands via their smart phones.
Hoffart is a faculty member with the Sask Polytech Psychiatric Nursing diploma program and one of the principal investigators on a research project aimed at identifying mental health barriers, from both the employee and employer side, that can limit success. She and her colleagues hope to help people pursue and succeed at their careers — and help employers to tap the talent they need for successful enterprises.
Mental health hurdles come in several categories, Hoffart explained. Some people have a long-term mental illness that has kept them out of the workplace for a long time, making re-entry difficult.
“Then, we have those people that are working that become ill within the workplace because of the stresses within it,” she said.
The research project is a collaboration among Sask Polytech, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Saskatchewan Division and Saskatoon marketing and tech innovation company Refresh Inc. It is funded through a two-year, $240,000 NSERC grant through the College and Community Social Innovation Fund.
The project has been about four years in the making to create its community-driven, patient-centred approach. For example, a key component of the research are questionnaires developed in partnership with people with mental health challenges and their caregivers.
At the same time, Refresh is developing a wellness platform and app with Sask Polytech’s Digital Integration Centre of Excellence (DICE). Much like physical health apps, the Refresh app is designed to help people monitor and nurture their mental health, create a supportive peer network and link to services in the community.
Refresh owner Naqsh (Nick) Kochar explained that the research participants will act as early adopters and beta testers for the app to ensure it helps the people it is intended to serve. There is great potential in the app’s marriage of robust technology and patient-centred research. There’s also a public call for beta testers – individuals can sign up at refreshinc.com, if interested.
“There are big data implications as well as significant implications in artificial intelligence,” he said. “As the app gets to know someone and learns more about who they are, the ability for it to provide recommendations is a big deal.”
Rebecca Rackow, the director of Advocacy Research and Public Policy Development at CMHA and part of the research team, said, “Overall, you can take care of your mental wellness much like you look after your physical fitness.”
CMHA Saskatchewan Division, associate executive director Dave Nelson said mental health issues are common, affecting about a quarter of employees. Many suffer in silence as they fear that it may affect their ability to keep or advance in their careers. Tools to help employers, unions and other stakeholders support mental health in the workplace are needed.
“Insurance companies seem to be finding it very challenging because it’s the largest growing sector that they’re having to support,” he said.
Visit saskpolytech.ca/research for more information on Applied Research and Innovation at Sask Polytech.
Published January 2020.