Zain Sikafi

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Written by Dr Zain Sikafi (Intercalated BSc Medical Sciences with Management 2008), qualified GP, Digital Health Entrepreneur and Co-founder and CEO of Mynurva.

Mental health is the single largest financial burden in the world, with a cost to the global economy of £1.6 trillion per year.

In 2017, the British Prime Minister commissioned the independent ‘Thriving at Work’ report, which showed that a staggering 300,000 Britons lose their job each year as a direct consequence of mental health problems. Furthermore, statistics show that 91 million working days are lost in the UK every year due to people’s struggles with mental health at an annual cost to the national economy of £99 billion.

The figures say it all: there is a mental health crisis both in the UK and globally. It’s been simmering beneath the surface for decades, but in more recent years we have finally started to break the taboo and talk about mental illness.

However, when it comes to work, people are still unable – or at least feel unable – to open up about the serious psychological issues that are inflicting their day-to-day lives.

In late 2018, my business Mynurva commissioned an independent study among more than 2,000 UK adults to uncover the prevalence of mental health problems in the workplace. Moreover, we drilled down into the reasons why so many people are suffering in silence with conditions like stress, anxiety and depression.

We found that a third of full-time workers in the UK have suffered from mental illness. Worryingly, 37% of those affected have never sought any form of help for their problems, while 44% have never even spoken to their employer about the issue.

Why not? The research showed 59% fear talking about the issue would damage their relationships with colleagues; 58% believe conversations with a manager would not remain confidential; and 55% feel opening up about mental illness would hurt their chances of a promotion.

Organisations are slowly making improvements in this area. From support schemes and private medical insurance through to more relaxed and open office environments, employers are actively trying to tackle the mental health crisis.

But it’s going to be a long road. And the reality is that for the foreseeable future, people are not going to feel comfortable speaking about mental illness in the workplace.

This is what inspired me to launch Mynurva last year.

Mynurva provides fast access to therapy or counselling, confidentially, securely and discreetly, via its live video platform. There are no waiting rooms, and no travelling is required.

It was created to combat the barriers that are preventing people from seeking help for mental health problems. Namely, that busy professionals have precious little free time amidst their hectic working life, and they are deeply uncomfortable with the prospect of speaking to a colleague about their troubles with stress, anxiety or depression.

It’s clear that we need new solutions, and technology – as it has in so many other parts of our lives – was the logical place to start. I pondered: how can we use the same technology that is already sat in our homes or in our pockets to improve people’s access to high-quality mental health treatment?

Live video was the answer. By using video conferencing software, which many of us are already familiar with, Mynurva is able to connect users with therapists and counsellors within minutes.

With round the clock appointments available, people no longer need to leave work, take sick days or use their holiday leave to see a medical professional. What’s more, being able to conduct the sessions from anywhere via a secure online platform alleviates fears regarding confidentiality.

Over recent decades, we have seen technology completely revolutionise the way people access services and consume products. We now use digital tools to manage everything from our finances to our love lives. But in the healthcare space, where confidentiality and interaction with qualified experts is essential, we’ve been slower to embrace the change.

Thankfully, the HealthTech industry is starting to flourish. And as we look for innovative ways to combat the mental health crisis that’s hurting so many employees and employers, we at Mynurva are excited to have created an easy-to-access solution for those who have been suffering in silence with mental illness.

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