Evidence: You’re foot is on fire — what do you do?

in Employee Wellness Programs, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

feet in shoes that are on fire

In an online discussion, Don McCreary, the senior consultant of Donald McCreary Scientific Consulting, and someone for whom I have the utmost respect, was making a case for “a scientific publishing paradigm that supported the publication and dissemination of negative findings.” To exemplify this need, he offered the example of workplace mental health prevention:

There are so many programs that say they are evidence-based, but there’s no evidence that they actually do what they say they do. Are they marketing us snake oil by relying on the phrase “evidence-based” because they’re too lazy to collect the evidence or is it because they have data to show that the program they’re selling or marketing doesn’t work?”

Claims of “evidence based” in all aspects of wellbeing warrant closer scrutiny.

“Are they marketing us snake oil?” I offered my take:

There are other possibilities, though they may be variations of those Dr. McCreary identified:

  1. Buyers and sellers are naive and/or ill-informed, and believe their products/services are evidence-based, even when they’re not. They feel it’s accurate to call something evidence-based because it draws on a framework for which there’s evidence, because they have internal data demonstrating positive outcomes, or even because they can cite a study showing that an intervention like theirs was effective—none of which justifies calling their program evidence-based.
  2. Employers/purchasers don’t care about evidence and aren’t persuaded by it. But they like buying stuff they can say is evidence-based.
  3. Consumers of services, including many employees, also deem evidence uncompelling. This is borne out by a simple glance at the self-help bestseller list or health food section of a grocery store — endless claims of science-ishness (including mental health benefits!), with no real evidence.

All that said, to make evidence a prerequisite for all employee wellbeing interventions might be an unnecessary and unachievable burden. Someone once said:

If my foot is on fire, I don’t need a meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies before I ask someone to throw a bucket of water on it.

Or, as I wrote to Dr. McCreary:

Instead of calling everything evidence-based just to fuel the wellbeing marketplace, there’d be value in broad discussion about “when should a workplace intervention be limited to evidence-based programs/strategies?”

I’ve come to believe it’s okay to implement an intervention if it’s something employees want and we have good reason to believe it will do no harm. This might include, for example, mindfulness programs and physical fitness opportunities, as well as organizational interventions to reduce psychosocial risk factors.

Most HR managers and business leaders don’t know the first thing about evidence — nor should they, any more than a research methodologist should be able to, say, describe the details of workers’ comp regulations and practices.

It will be better to promote education about evidence and the role it should (or should not) play in employee wellbeing strategies, rather than just pretending programs are evidence-based when they probably aren’t.

There’s Mental Health in Them Thar Workers

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing, Workplace Mental Health Resources

woman with gold face

In the red-hot employee mental health industry, two of the reddest, hottest companies — Ginger and Headspace — announced their merger. As reported by Stat:

The new company, called Headspace Health, will have a reported value of $3 billion, placing it in the top echelon of companies vying to own significant chunks of the mental health market….Headspace, which sells directly to consumers as well as to businesses, is focused on self-directed meditation and mindfulness…Ginger also offers self-guided treatment in addition to text-based coaching and video-based therapy and psychiatry.

Oliver Harrison, CEO of digital mental health competitor Koa Health, magnanimously blogged that the merger represents “a tremendous moment signaling the growing market demand, innovation and transformation for digital mental health and wellbeing.”

This might be true, but we might also conclude that this is a moment in which two unrelenting enterprises join forces to, as Stat said, “own chunks of the market.”

Innovation? Later in the post, Harrison quotes HR expert Josh Bersin:

“Bigger companies with thousands of customers try to innovate, but the demands of their large, existing customers distract their engineering teams and they can rarely innovate like they did when they were small.”

A colleague recently described employee mental health as a modern day gold rush, with money gushing into it from exuberant employers — clawing for precious solutions, while surrounded by barkers hawking unauthenticated replicas — and venture capitalist prospectors jumping aboard the gravy train.

Tremendous Moment? Or Wild West?

Headspace and Ginger are joining hands as they stake their claim in the mental health landscape. Good for them. We can only hope it also turns out to be good for care seekers, employers, and mental health in general.

In other news, in-person therapy is now available at Walmart. Find it somewhere between the ammo, tobacco products, and baby strollers.


“Gold face” image courtesy John Vasilopoulos via Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/users/sjv_john-9645453/

Employees with Mental Illness: Too Many To Be Obscured

in Uncategorized, Wellbeing

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 20% of people live with a mental illness.

past year prevalence of Any Mental Illness among U.S. adults

Mental and behavioral disorders are the 3rd-leading cause of disability in the U.S. That’s a lot and warrants special attention.

Chart of the leading causes of disability, showing mental and behavioral health as the 3rd leading cause

Not everyone recovers from mental illness. Many (here, I don’t have stats, but the 20% figure  —  and my own observations  —  suggests this is true), suffer their entire lives with mental illness, and an increasing number of people end their lives as a result. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. We need to help these people.

Mental health and emotional wellbeing, unquestionably, are important for everyone. But in the wellness industry’s well-meaning enthusiasm for covering everyone under the mental health umbrella, we must be sure not to marginalize the large portion of people experiencing mental illness.

If we do communicate that there’s no difference between someone with a common disabling mental illness  —  like PTSD, bipolar disorder, and anorexia nervosa, as well as severe depression and anxiety  —  compared to anyone else who may be going through a tough stretch in an otherwise smooth-sailing life, we risk perpetuating mental health stigma rather than alleviating it.

If you’re thinking about implementing a mental health strategy in your workplace, check out the Workplace Mental Health resources available here on the Jozito website.