Online mental health resources have proven to enable easy, immediate, and early access to mental health professionals.

Digital therapy powers early and effective mental health intervention

August 8, 2022

For business owners, plan sponsors and administrators

These days, we spend a lot of time online. We go to work online, meet friends online, and learn online. When it comes to free time? We go online! So, it’s not surprising that online healthcare has become more commonplace, and access to mental health services is no exception.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, only about 1.6% of walk-in visits to doctors in Ontario were conducted through technology (including video, phone, text messaging or through an app).  By the second quarter of 2020, that figure jumped up to 70.6 per cent1.

Mental health therapy: the value of online early intervention

Online mental health resources helped fill the gap for people who needed access to treatment during the pandemic. But they have proven to have a deeper and more comprehensive value. They facilitate easy, immediate, and early access to mental health professionals from the comfort of home. And digital therapy has further opened the door to people who may not have sought this kind of support before.

Removing real or perceived barriers to mental health

Imagine you’re someone who has generally enjoyed good mental health your whole life. You might think there’s never been a reason to talk to a professional before. But the pandemic happens and, like many Canadians, you’re experiencing anxiety, isolation, and depression. Maybe you don’t feel it’s that severe, but you did hear that your group benefits plan includes online support. Now, instead of ignoring your symptoms, or avoiding the trip to an office, or time spent in a waiting room, you simply sign up, and log on. This, of course, also extends to people who have a previously diagnosed mental illness. They are now able to access the care they need online.

The simple scenario outlined above is an example of how an online-first approach to mental health support can facilitate early intervention. There are fewer barriers to entry and the digital format is comfortable and increasingly familiar. This means people can get the help they need when they need it. And early intervention can be extremely important in determining health outcomes.

Early intervention helps people return to work

Even before the pandemic, Manulife was working with Beacon® to evaluate the effectiveness of Therapist Assisted Digital Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. We studied the outcomes achieved by employees on disability who received timely intervention. The results strongly supported the idea that, when it comes to mental health, the earlier you receive help, the more likely you are to experience positive results2.

While we didn’t know a global pandemic was going to come around and drive the rate of digital therapy adoption so quickly, our results spoke to how valuable a resource it would become.

The ability to return to work after dealing with mental health challenges is only one measure of success. There are many ways people cope and heal. But when Digital Therapy is effective, employees can receive the treatment that allows them to return to work sooner. And the numbers show that early intervention is a key to this success.

A 17% reduction in absence duration

After participating in Manulife’s Therapist Guided Program, 73% of members saw clinically significant improvements in their symptoms. This translates into a 17% overall reduction in the length of disability claims, and a 4.7% improvement in return-to-work rates3.

This is an outstanding outcome, as even a small decrease in the length of disability is a significant improvement for employees looking to get back to work.

In addition, the efficacy of Digital Therapy was further supported as our data illustrated a small decrease in employees transitioning to Long-Term Disability (LTD)4. This suggests early access to online mental health resources can in fact lower transition rates to LTD and lead to fewer relapses.

The Most Compelling Case

Finally, and what might be the most compelling of the data collected during our pilot program, is the evidence of just how powerful early intervention itself is. When we intervened within 6 weeks of the absence, we saw a 37% reduction in absence durations compared to when we intervened beyond 6 weeks5.

Participants in the study also noted just how effective digital therapy was. Here’s a quote shared from someone who received therapy through Beacon®:
“I love this platform. It allows me to log on anytime; complete modules and go back to review concepts at any time and not limited to appointment times or visits with a therapist. The modules are simple and straightforward.”

Online is here to stay. And it’s worth fully embracing

Manulife began its pilot in anticipation of leveraging the value Digital Therapy can provide in a nation like Canada – where access to care in remote regions is a challenge. Now, in our largely online world, there are signs this shift has created some positive changes that will last beyond the pandemic.

With fewer barriers to access and the ability to receive early intervention, digital solutions like Manulife’s Therapist Guided Program have demonstrated their value by helping people return to work earlier. And we know people feel empowered when they can return to work. For many, work is an important part of their identity, and it contributes to their overall wellbeing. We hope that with the right intervention, people will be able to stay at work, or return to work when they’re ready.

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