An estimated one in four people worldwide experience a mental health problem at some point in their life, with most of them spending around a third of their life at work. When it comes to treating conditions like depression and anxiety, it makes sense to focus on the office as a breeding ground for stressors. The World Health Organisation has now classed workplace burnout as an official medical diagnosis, rather than the fact of life or character flaw it has previously been regarded as.
A Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey found that stress and mental health issues cost UK companies nearly £35bn a year, which breaks down to around £1,300 per employee. London-based health tech company BioBeats may finally have the solution to workplace stress, with an artificial intelligence (AI) powered app that allows users to track their psychological reaction to stress and develop new habits.
We spoke to BioBeats chief operating officer Constanza Di Gennaro about how the company’s technology is helping employees manage their mental health.
Chloe Kent: Can you tell me a bit about how BioBeats was founded?
Constanza Di Gennaro: The founding story is very exciting, and actually a little bit tragic – 15 years ago David Plans, our CEO, fainted in Brussels after hearing very stressful news and flatlined on his way to the hospital. All he got was some stern advice about overworking and stress, which he absolutely ignored thinking there was something seriously wrong with him. You don’t just die out of nowhere.
After years and years of research and seeing pretty much every doctor under the sun, what he ended up realising is that they were right all along. There was absolutely nothing wrong with him physically but the levels of stress he was handling almost killed him. He already had a background in AI as a researcher, so decided to shift his focus to stress and how it affects health, finding some quite sinister data on the way. He retrained in neuroscience and psychology and five years ago he founded BioBeats, a digital health and artificial intelligence company which empowers people to take control of their wellbeing, with a particular focus on mental health.
CK: How does BioBeats’ app work?
CDG: The app is called BioBase, which works with a wearable called BioBeam. The wearable focuses on collecting passive data: sleep, activity and heart rate variability. The app itself has a mood tracking feature, deep breathing exercises, executive function tests and a personalised wellbeing course. For each person the course will adapt depending on what BioBeats’ AI determines they need to work on the most and what they need to optimise.
AI is very much at the heart of what happens. We collect physiological, psychological and neurological data in one place to get a really comprehensive idea of the wellbeing of the user, which can only happen with the use of AI and machine learning. Our position is that you can’t have one solution for everyone, especially for mental health, which is so personal.
Mental health is usually considered to be an invisible illness and what we prove with our research is that this is not the case at all. The correlation between the metrics of the body and the brain is very much always there, and it’s important to acknowledge it for how serious it can be to shift the conversation to a position of medical importance rather than just social importance.
CK: How can people access the app?
CDG: Right now we work with businesses, particularly ones which have been identified as wanting to take a preventative approach to mental health and stress management. It’s absolutely no secret that work can be really stressful, regardless of what you do. If you have this data, you can make better and more educated decisions on what to do to encourage and support your employees especially with mental health. It’s very much a B2B approach but the user experience is still very personal to each user.
Employees using BioBase have a very private, unique experience and the company isn’t able to collect this information or associate it to any individual employees. It’s highly confidential and all of the information the company can then get is aggregated and anonymised.
CK: Where has this proven particularly useful?
CDG: The cases that I like discussing are bigger companies, especially production companies or logistics companies where you have everyone from a senior executive to a team in a warehouse. Employees across the board can have very different roles and the stressors that they will experience aren’t especially comparable.
Through personalisation of everyone’s data, you can find a delivery driver who finds his tight deadlines very stressful and an executive who may have more freedom to manage their workload but can’t switch off from work when they leave the office. They struggle with different things, and there are tools within the app to process both of these situations better. I would say that’s the most successful application, where a very diverse workforce finds different elements within the app to optimise their own wellbeing.
CK: What’s BioBase’s USP over other wellbeing-focused apps?
CDG: What we focus on the most in our research is the concept of interoception, which simply refers to the idea of your mind being able to connect to your body and identify what’s going on in your body. For example, there’s an issue of interoception where you’re angry and you don’t know what’s making you angry and it turns out you were just hungry. Our product helps re-establish that connection and bring the body and the mind together.