Service of Quick and Easy Solutions for Depression: Intrusive Much?

July 25th, 2016

Categories: Anxiety, Depression, Health Screening, Mental Health, Privacy, Psychology, Stress, Technology



I appreciate companies that tackle a challenge in resourceful, efficient ways, but not at risk to safety, privacy and efficacy. According to Rachel Emma Silverman, “Companies are waking up to the costs of untreated mental illnesses like depression, which is linked to $44 billion a year in lost workplace productivity, according to the University of Michigan Depression Center. The center cites data suggesting that workers suffering from depression cost companies 27 lost work days a year.”

Her Wall Street Journal article “Tackling Workers’ Mental Health, One Text at a Time–Employers are turning to counseling services that can be accessed on smartphones,” inspired questions. We’re not talking about tips to treat a paper cut here. Plus, to receive what resembles a mental Band-aid an employee must be willing to give up privacy.

StressEmployee assistance programs [EAPs], where staff has access to free counseling on the phone, don’t seem to work, she reported. In contrast, Silverman wrote: “Some apps mine data about employees’ phone usage, or medical and pharmaceutical claims, to determine who might be in need of care. Others allow workers to text and video chat with therapists—in what are being called ‘telemental’ health services.”

The apps also collect data—telling employers how many look for help for stress, anxiety or depression–but according to Silverman, an employer doesn’t learn anything about individuals. However some in the industry worry that a lost or hacked phone puts an employee’s privacy at risk and others, who are happy to see something is being done, point out that the security of the privacy is unproven.

AnxietyAccording to Silverman, one app,, “alerts a health coach when a user hasn’t texted in a while or hasn’t left the house, potential signals of increased stress or anxiety.” She continued, it “gathers phone-activity data with users’ permission; the app does not monitor the content of messages or a phone’s specific location.” The human resources director at a company that offers both EAPs and mobile apps reports about the latter. It “feels like a more immediate solution for folks, because they are always on their phones anyway.”

Another corporation expects an ROI of over $2 million this year. Last year it spent $11.5 million on “behavioral health treatments” for its US employees wrote Silverman. It has signed them up at Castlight Health Inc. that “computes users’ health and pharmaceutical claims, as well as their search history within the app, to identify who might be at risk for a mental health condition and direct them to appropriate care.” Silverman described that the smartphone screen of staffers with something like chronic pain– associated with depression and anxiety–might be “Feeling overwhelmed?” A click leads to a list of questions about mood, treatment suggestions and an online therapy program.

Mental health mavens add, “While treatment by text is convenient, some users may still need to supplement it with in-office visits to a therapist.”

I’m all for mobile apps that share weather, sports scores, the shortest driving distance between here and there, movie reviews and the time to expect the next First Avenue bus and I don’t care if the world knows I’ve accessed them. With technology as fine tuned as it is, I can’t believe that the employer won’t know if someone seeks out help which might prevent them from getting a promotion.

  • And if an app determines someone has stayed at home for two days, might the reason not be the flu or a sick child–rather than an indication that you are paralyzed by depression?
  • Haven’t you researched a disease or condition a friend or relative mentions? How would the app know it’s not about you?
  • Are corporations blaming stress and anxiety on staff, who must be cured, instead of fixing the management style, unrealistic expectations or work conditions that may have caused much of the employee anxiety and blues in such numbers?


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8 Responses to “Service of Quick and Easy Solutions for Depression: Intrusive Much?”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    That’s a mighty tough question. In these days of companies hacking each other’s web sites, and countries hacking party servers, and finding secret messages, One might think twice about pouring their hearts and minds out through electronic devices. It probably could help the individual, but privacy may be lost.
    Beware the hacker!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I couldn’t agree more about the potential of hackers.

    In addition, I wonder about the efficacy of a quick fix–much like the results of a chat with a psychologist on a call-in radio show.

    And who diagnoses whether the person would be better off seeing a career coach to help them transfer skills because they dislike the industry they are in or visiting human resources in the case of a bully boss?

  3. hb Said:

    Although it is a while back, I can remember when an ambitious employee was afraid to submit family member psychiatrist’s bills for reimbursement under his or her employer provided medical insurance plan. He or she knew that the “fact” of that submission would become immediately known to their superiors.

    Indeed, when I became more senior, occasionally, such and like “confidential” information did somehow become discreetly and informally available to me if it was germane to some of the more complicated personnel decisions that I had to make.

    I’d be an utter ninny to trust an employer-owned machine with a microphone and a speaker with my innermost thoughts. This is crazy!

  4. Lucrezia Said:

    Everyone being different, there are no quick or easy answers to these questions. My very low tech policy is to leave personal concerns at home, and work concerns in the office/field or wherever. It keeps me afloat when working, or volunteering. It becomes all the more vital when ones activities involve a wide variety of people.

    Depression/stress are not easy to cast aside, but it’s well worth the effort to try to get as much control over them as possible, and determined practice is a great help. Success increases personal power. Some fortunate souls have even been able to use it to conquer life threatening diseases. Very few get that far, but it must bring a huge sense of accomplishment and relief for those who do.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Well put and I love the pun!

    I also think it diminishes the importance of depression and puts it in a category like “how to deal with dandruff” or “how to lose weight.”

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You hit it on the head: Personal issues are best kept to onesself as much as possible for so many reasons. There are obvious exceptions: When a child, parent or relative is sick and you want to or must be by their side during working hours, the truth will out. I am always amazed when people you don’t know well blab to any who will listen about private matters. It’s one thing if you know and trust a colleague–but this app business falls more on the side of any and/or everyone might be part of your intimate thoughts and troubles with a large dollop of “one size fits all,” which, in your intro, you addressed– “everyone being different.”

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    The Orwellian proceedings described in the post seem absurd, self-defeating, and more than a little embarrassing for the companies in questions as much as for the employees..
    The idea that strangers can go through mental health therapy equal to purchasing doughnuts at a drive through window by itself could contribute to massive depression. The over all project of controlling mental health in tandem with productivity through machinery, confessional behavior with strangers, de facto espionage and incredibly gauche taste sounds like a nightmare. Besides being grotesque, and offensive, it seems to me that the employers who came up with or purchased these services are in serious need of help.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The old saying, “you get what you pay for,” fits here. Treating something as serious as depression on the cheap and on the fly doesn’t work.

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