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Dr Andres Fonseca

Stress Free Island

Apr 20, 2018, 14:00 PM
by Dr Andres Fonseca, CEO and Co-Founder of Thrive

Workplace Wellbeing focus: 5 in five

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Mental Health conditions are very common. In fact around 1 in 4 people will suffer a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime. Yet many will not seek the help they need due to the stigma. The cost to employers of mental ill health is enormous, presenteeism (when an individual comes into work whilst they are unwell and is less productive as a result of their condition) accounts for a large part of this cost. Ensuring the employees can face mental health issues and that employers are equipped to offer the correct support is vital. For Aviva customers – both employers and employees - there is access to Stress Free Island which, is integrated within the EAP offering.

We asked Dr Andreas Fonseca, CEO and Co-Founder of Thrive, the organisation behind Stress Free Island for an overview of what Stress Free Island is and what the very real benefits of using it are.

Q1. What is Stress Free Island? 

Essentially, Stress Free Island is an app.

It is a discrete and clinically effective way for employees to self-manage mental health conditions. Help is available at the touch of a button whenever a person needs it and it allows them access to further help via the integrated Care First pathway if needed. The app uses validated clinical scales and conforms to NICE guidance for step 2 interventions. 

Stress Free Island is for everyone at work, not just for those affected by mental ill health, as the greatest benefits are from the prevention and early detection features. 

Engagement with the app has been shown to halve recovery time for mild anxiety and depression provided it is used regularly.

Q2. How is Stress Free Island different from other apps? 

Most other apps focus only on the prevention side, but Stress Free Island is able to screen for depression and anxiety. In spite of appearing game-like, the app only uses evidence-based techniques shown to be clinically sound and effective in the treatment of anxiety and depression. It integrates prevention content with validated screening scales and self-management techniques shown to be effective in clinical research. When someone screens positive it actively prompts the user to seek help and lowers the barriers to access support. It is directly integrated with Care first. Instead of requiring employees to ring a helpline, which can be quite daunting, it asks the user for permission to notify a Care first therapist so that it is the therapist who initiates contact. Furthermore, when the therapist receives the notification it includes a summary of the employee’s progress. That way the first conversation is focused on the difficulties the employee is actually experiencing. As the employee works with the therapist the app becomes a cognitive behavioural therapy journal that can be shared with the therapist.

We are always improving the app and incorporating new content. Over the next 3 months we will launch 2 new programmes for those with moderate depression and anxiety, going live alongside all other updates within the app.

Q3. What are the key benefits of the app for the employer/employee? 

For the employer, Stress Free Island is a free tool that can be deployed to the entire organisation, it is not just for those who are mentally unwell. It is discreet, so the employee does not need to ask for permission to download it and all their activity in the app remains confidential. The screening tool improves the typically low rates of help-seeking behaviour enabling employees to access the right help sooner. If absence does occur the likelihood is that the absence duration will be shorter as a result of engagement with the app.

It also integrates directly with Care First EAP services so that as soon as a problem is detected the employee can access the right help without trying to find the contact details for Care First. This, coupled with the clinically effective self-management features, cuts down on the recovery times for those affected. For those using the app that are not unwell, it can help to break down the stigma surrounding mental ill health and also build resilience.

Q4. How does the app fit with the NHS stepped care model? 

The NHS uses a stepped care model for the treatment of common mental health conditions. This is based on recommendations made by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). NICE describes a pathway made up of 4 steps:

  1. The condition is suspected
  2. Mild to moderate condition present
  3. Mild to moderate condition present that persists after initial treatment or severe condition
  4. Persistent severe and complex condition

The app has been designed to fit with Steps 1 and 2. It includes screening tools to detect the condition when it is suspected and it provides the self-management techniques recommended as Step 2 interventions, including computerised cognitive behavioural therapy and applied relaxation.

It is also able to detect when progress is not being made and prompts the individual to start Step 3 interventions that can be delivered by the Care First therapy team.

Q5. How can Stress Free Island help to adhere to the 6-core mental health standard?

Last year the government published an independent review of mental health in the workplace entitled ‘Thriving at Work’. In it the authors describe 6 core mental health standards that every employer should try to achieve. 

It can be difficult for employers to know how to implement the standards. Here’s how Stress Free Island can help

The standards are:

1. Produce, implement and communicate a mental health at work plan

Plans should include elements to support people with mental health problems and enable them to seek appropriate help as soon as possible. Stress Free Island can help with the implementation of the plan as it can act as a hub from where the individual can find the right support. 

2. Develop mental health awareness among employees
The key activity to meet this standard is to make tools, information and support easily accessible. The app provides all of this at the touch of a button. Helping people understand mental health conditions and signposting to other support that employers have available.

3. Encourage open conversations about mental health
This is about reducing stigma and openly discussing issues. It is about making adjustments and having open conversations about mental health. The app is for the whole workforce and introduces a common language to discuss mental health via the integrated tools.

4. Provide employees with good working conditions
The key here is ensuring a good work/life balance and healthy working conditions. As well as providing opportunities for development. The app can help identify the factors creating stress at work, giving actionable insights that can improve the working environment.

5. Promote effective people management

This is about making sure managers are comfortable and skilled in having regular conversations with employees about health and wellbeing. The content in Stress Free Island can help to make it easier for managers to have these regular conversations. 

6. Routinely monitor employee mental health and wellbeing
In this standard, the employer must set up data gathering methods that will identify risk factors, rates of mental health conditions, rates of recovery, duration of episodes and other key indicators. It is possible to gather data via the app and produce anonymised reports that can be part of the data used to meet this standard.

Evidence is at the heart of everything we do. Our goal is to empower everyone to take charge of their mental wellbeing and live happier, more fulfilling lives. 


Dr Andres Fonseca, CEO and Co-Founder of Thrive, the organisation behind Stress Free Island.

GR02163 03/2018

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