Digital Therapy

Top Six Digital Mental Health Trends in 2021

By: Starling Minds

Last updated: January 24, 2022

Employee getting digital therapy for mental healthcare

Mental Healthcare Today 

Digital mental health is rapidly disrupting the way leaders approach workplace healthcare and employee wellness. Today, the biggest digital mental health trends are dominated by the concept of accessible, personalized care. With an increasing number of industries aiming to deliver smarter workplace health strategies and patient-centred solutions, there should be no doubt in what digital mental health can do for workplace mental health and wellness practices. 

Digital mental health arose largely out of necessity and the need for people to access care previously only available to those who could afford it, even with an employee benefits plan. 

In Canada and the US, public health and workplace policies are failing despite our system’s best efforts to deliver resources when needed. Currently, over 90% of support and resources cater to physical illness instead of mental illness, alarming given the steady rise in mental health disability claims. Doctors, clinicians, medical staff, and case managers aren’t trained or equipped to handle the rising numbers of diseases caused by stress and anxiety. These are signs of a significant literacy and skills gap within our healthcare systems and the agents who provide care. 

Fact: General Practitioners do not detect up to 70% of mental health diagnoses.

Fact: Chronic shortage in mental health professionals and training.

Mental healthcare in Canada and the US is riddled with accessibility, cost, and wait time issues:

  • Unmet Treatment — 60% do not receive Treatment due to stigma, access, cost
  • Inadequate Mental Health Programs — 65% of employees do not find current mental health benefits and programs helpful
  • Accessibility Issues in Canada and the US — over 1.6 million Canadians and 53 million Americans report unmet mental health care needs each year due to stigma, costs, time, geographic challenges
  • Rapidly Escalating Costs — 70% of all disability costs are now mental health-related

These accessibility issues to mental healthcare won’t be something employees can tackle on their own. And in a year filled with discourse, isolation, uncertainty, and trauma, it’s up to employers to get their employees the help they need.

But what are the innovative digital therapies available, and what trends should leaders look for in a solution? This trend report will help you discover the six key trends that will shape the future of workplace health strategies for 2021 and beyond. 

1. Moving Beyond EAPs with Digital Mental Health

In 2021, there will be a massive upward trend or shift in leaders re-evaluating employee benefits, turning their attention towards what EAPs can do for employee mental health. 

With mandated lockdowns, employees have been cancelling or deferring treatments leading to short-term cost-savings for employers in healthcare spending and premiums, although not without potentially long-term impacts such as higher health risks and worse-off symptoms. According to a Mercer report, 48% of US employers are monitoring the impacts of COVID-19 and anticipating any EAP benefits adjustments needed. Currently EAPs’ products and services are under scrutiny by employers due to their lack of transparency around ROI, usage, reporting, and service model. After all, EAPs and premiums can only remain cost-effective if employees don’t actually use its service, which doesn’t help employers who wish to offer effective, affordable, and scalable mental and behavioral health support. 

But the demand for innovative mental health solutions with key reporting and insights rests entirely on leaders wanting to know the growing complexities in what employees need to stay healthy and productive and willing to invest heavily in employee mental health beyond EAPs. Even before the pandemic, EAPs, despite its long history as an employee benefit, fail on many critical levels and open the door for solutions to take center stage.  

As such, employers should look for solutions with sophisticated data to drive smarter employee health and benefits decisions alongside an easy to launch approach in anticipation of quick, necessary changes due to COVID-19. 

2. Rise in Critical Behavioral Health Support

Behavioral health support is another emerging and fast-approaching trend as we move into 2021. Given the lessons learned during the ‘08 housing market collapse, mental and behavioral health support has never been more critical as governments race to provide all forms of relief to their citizens and residents. During the crisis back in ‘08, many countries worldwide saw rises in mental-behavioral problems including depression, anxiety, and substance use, as a result of the record-breaking unemployment rate, 13% rise in suicides attributable to job loss, and income inequality in that year alone. Governments and workplaces will be looking to implement mental-behavioral health solutions to offset the potential ramifications due to the pandemic.  

For leaders, it’s essential to understand how mental and behavioral health are connected. Behavioral health is mental health, which looks at how behaviors impact someone’s health — physical and mental. By extension, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of mental health support that helps employees understand how their thoughts, behaviors, and physiology affect how they feel. It is rooted in the theory that thoughts, emotions, body sensations, and behaviors are all connected. There is no health without physical and mental health — a lesson many were taught in social isolation. 

According to a CDC study:

  • 40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder
  • 30.9% reported symptoms of a trauma
  • 26.3% reported stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic
  • 13.3% started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19

Mental-behavioral health support will be a go-to intervention to help employees understand how their thoughts, behaviours, and physiology affect how they feel, and take that awareness to develop strategies and tools to manage it constructively without forming unhealthy coping mechanisms. CBT is a key approach to helping employees build the mental health resilience they need to handle daily forms of stress, anxiety, and depression. 

3. Rise in Digital CBT 2.0

Digital CBT, in particular, is being adopted rapidly as healthcare providers, workplaces, and communities adapt to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Digital mental health often deploys strategies rooted in CBT, hence the trend towards digitizing CBT’s best practices. CBT has become increasingly popular among clinicians and the general public due to its quick, short-term, structured approach to treatment and its impressive track record to treating stress, anxiety, and depression (today’s top contributors to global health issues – according to WHO).

In particular, digital CBT solutions powered by other significant trends like artificial intelligence and predictive analytics will be critical in delivering therapeutic experiences for employees traditionally offered by human therapists, but with the added in-depth data and reporting unavailable under EAPs and teletherapy options.  

A recent poll by the Medical Association of Canada shows that Canadians embrace the virtual care they use due to the pandemic and would like to see them more readily available and improved in the future. Digital mental health can enhance mental health delivery beyond EAPs, teletherapy, and public health systems and change the way workplaces prevent and treat mental health conditions.

With the rise in digital CBT solutions, leaders should look for solutions that deliver the best scalable, affordable, and effective mental healthcare to workplaces and its employees, with built-in technology to mirror human psychologists’ processes and systems. 

4. Personalized Mental Health Support through Expert Systems

For years, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been championed as the technology to emulate human decisions, and many leading solutions are now using AI to power their products and services. For Digital CBT solutions, having an expert system powered by AI and predictive analytics will be paramount to delivering personalized, therapeutic experiences to employees, alongside aggregated data to help leaders drive smarter workplace strategies that resonate with employees. For leading digital mental health solutions, personalization means mirroring human psychologists’ practices and decisions without the bias associated with human-guided therapies.

The chronic shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists will continue to increase as the baby boomer generation retires. Governments are putting initiatives in place to increase the number of younger psychologists; however, it won’t offset the chronic shortages in remote/isolated communities. The younger generations tend to be attracted to metropolitan areas. In particular, leaders with a remote working population should look to digital mental health solutions to ensure the long-term and sustainable delivery of highly effective, personalized, and engaging digital mental health to treat workplace stress, anxiety, and depression.

5. Data Support and Big Data as a Predictor

Big Data has been the driving force behind the digital transformation from education to healthcare. It is now transforming mental health treatment to help leaders see what even psychologists don’t see.

Psychology and its professionals were one of the slow adopters of digital intervention, as they often thought of mental healthcare as a nuanced art and a business in human relationships. People do not realize that employee mental health outcomes are not rigorously measured in human-guided therapy and teletherapy compared to digital solutions.

Currently, psychotherapy data is poorly utilized due to it being fragmented across the healthcare industry and the reliance on manual and older analytical methods. To build a resilient and competitive workforce, leaders will look to solutions that provide them with transparent and visible data.

With digital mental health rooted in AI and predictive analytics, researchers can take the volume of data collected during the mental health process to uncover each employee’s behavioral patterns. This will drive more accurate mental health progression predictions or regression. Collecting data without compromising patients’ privacy and confidentiality will become increasingly valuable over time. 

With digital mental health solutions, its aggregated data will allow leaders to gain valuable insights to calculate and predict the probability of occurrence and treatment. 

Key digital mental health data include:

  • Demographics: Age, gender, education level, occupation, location, marital status, household size, socioeconomics, etc. 
  • Mental Health Symptoms & Functioning: Current assessment, history, previous diagnoses, medication
  • Personality Profile: 15 personality permutations ie. emotional stability, conscientiousness
  • Profession-specific: Cohort analysis around profession language and stressors
  • User-Generated Data: Commenting / liking, polls and surveys, activities
  • Behavioral and Volumetric Inputs: Usage metrics and trends 
  • Cohort Analysis and Optimization: Optimizing treatment path

6. Digital Transformation of Absence & Disability Management

In a time where absence, short-term and long-term disability incidences were already on the rise, the industry is now anticipating an even bigger increase and extended claim durations as the effects of COVID-19 continue to unfold. Top disability management experts are most worried about the rise in absence and long-term disability claims as a consequence of COVID-19. 

Due to the government-mandated lockdowns, many employees and claimants did not have access to their community support and therapies to get better. With mental health claims comprising 70% of all disability claims costs and growing, finding an effective way to predict and control absence and disability treatment costs will be a strong trend in 2021 and a key value driver for adopting digital mental health solutions. More importantly, frontloading mental health support when an employee is on sick leave or short-term disability will be the key to reducing treatment costs and the likelihood of the claimant slipping into long-term disability. 

This approach to frontload mental health support is not possible with the current approaches used by human-guided therapy, teletherapy, and EAPs. Case managers would often prefer to provide face-to-face sessions when someone is on long-term disability, instead of on sick-leave or STD. It will require the digitization of mental health practices to scale up support. 

In particular, digital solutions with sophisticated reporting capabilities to understand ROI, macro trends, and business impacts to better inform leadership decisions will be critical, something that face-to-face, teletherapy, and EAPs currently do not provide.

Fact: It is important to consider the burnout factor in case managers; therefore, trends on offloading disability caseloads and onboarding easy-to-use case management tools will be critical.


  • Shifting offerings beyond what EAPs can do
  • Rise in critical behavioral health support
  • Rise in digital CBT
  • Personalized mental healthcare through expert systems
  • Data therapy and big data
  • Digital transformation of absence & disability management

Looking at the rise in digital mental health, it has become clear that leaders are choosing to learn more about its benefits and delivering efficient, accessible, and affordable help previously limited by more traditional approaches like face-to-face therapy, teletherapy, and EAPs. 

The rise in digital mental health is due to leaders understanding that stigma, accessibility, and costs are barriers employees can’t tackle on their own and it’s up to employers to offer innovative mental health resources and benefits built for today’s workplaces.

If you would like to learn more about the Starling Minds platform then please request a demo.

Starling Minds

Starling Minds™ is a digital mental health platform that reduces absence and disability costs by delivering immediate, unlimited, and personalized digital Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Developed by leading psychologists, Starling’s digital therapy is powered by an expert system that emulates the processes and practices of human-guided therapy to remove the greatest barriers preventing employees from accessing affordable and effective mental health care—cost, access, and stigma.

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