ghp August 2015 | 37 professional services Mental illness is one of the largest global health crises of our modern times. Recent figures estimate that the global cost of mental illness, including medical and indirect costs, will be over $6 trillion by 2030 1 . In addition to the considerable personal and human burden of mental illness, mental health costs business- es billions each year in absences and lost productivity. Employers are struggling to contain the financial and human costs of mental ill health and recognise the importance of preventing the escalation of stress and mental health issues in the workplace. Prevention and early intervention are key – a study in the Neth- erlands estimated that every € 1 spent on treatment saves € 4.24 in increased productivity and reduced costs of care 2 . When it comes to mental health, employers need tailored solutions, which encourage healthy habits, improve employee wellbeing and resilience and boost performance at work. Two solutions that have been gaining attention for their potential to prevent and tackle the early signs of mental illness, while at the same time improving performance, are cognitive assessment and training. Forward thinking companies are using cognitive health products often as part of broader workplace wellness packages. Computer assisted cognitive assessment and training is non-invasive, can be self-administered and are cost-effective and tailored to the individual. So how do they work? Mental health conditions, like depression, are associat- ed with a range of symptoms; emotional, cognitive and physical. Cognition is synonymous with the way our mind operates. It is the ability to plan and organise, solve problems, recall events and people, focus atten- tion and respond with speed and accuracy. A healthy, balanced cognition enables people to perform to the best of their abilities and, just as when we improve our physical health, it provides “cognitive resilience” to manage better when under pressure. However, cog- nitive dysfunction associated with depression – if left untreated - will result in poorer function at home and at work. The consequences in the workplace include reduced productivity and work quality, and increased absenteeism and presenteeism, where employees are physically present but mentally absent. Assessing cognitive health can help spot the early signs of mental ill-health. Businesses can now offer their employees screening for cognitive health issues simply and easily via online tools such as MyCogni- tion’s MyCQ Pro or interactive apps like MoodFx. MyCQ Pro is a 15 minute online cognitive assessment, which evaluates the health of the five core cognitive domains; executive function, working memory, epi- sodic memory, attention and psychomotor speed via a series of scientifically validated psychometric tests. The assessment, which can be taken anonymously, empowers individuals by offering them detailed infor- mation about the health of their cognition, highlight- ing cognitive strengths and potential weaknesses. An indication that someone is struggling in some cognitive areas, or is uncharacteristically withdrawn or angry for example, provides a chance for them and their employer to act early and explore what the underlying issue might be, and if necessary to seek professional help. MyCQ Pro works alongside MyCognition’s adaptive cogni- tive training programmes, which, through a processor (patent applied), interpret the results of the cognitive assessment. Training is personalised and focuses on the areas of greatest need for the individual whilst simultaneously, holistically exercising all cognitive domains to provide a complete cognitive workout. The training is adaptive, and is challenging enough to make the effort worthwhile without being too difficult. This approach helps to strengthen the individuals’ core cognitive health – improving their mental wellbeing and resilience. To monitor cognitive improvement over time, the MyCQ Pro assessment can be repeated as required. There is a growing body of scientific research that supports the increased role cognitive assessment programmes are taking within HR and Occupational Health. A March 2015 report in The Lancet fea- turing a randomised controlled trial (RCT) of brain training in Finland 3 suggested that it can play a key role in improving mental faculties and preventing cognitive decline. MyCognition’s own research in pa- tients with OCD, schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, is ongoing, but has already shown signifi- cant cognitive gains in in verbal and visual memory performance using MyCognition’s assessment and training programmes 4 . With their popularity growing, the number of brain and cognitive training products available is in- creasing - ranging from online memory games and crossword apps through to scientifically developed and tested cognitive evaluation assessments and programmes such as MyCognition’s. It is important to remember therefore that each product should be assessed on its merits and matched to the require- ments of the company or individual. With the NHS in England adopting online mental health products such as the Big White Wall and most health insurance companies looking at offering solu- tions to their customers, it is clear that online cogni- tive health programmes are becoming established. This is good news for all in the workplace, whether they suffer directly from poor mental health or not. A scientifically grounded cognitive assessment and training programme combined with a robust workplace wellness programme could make a huge difference to everyone’s personal and working lives. Dr Raj Kumar is Chief Medical Officer at cognitive health company MyCognition. References 1. ‘The Global Economic Burden of Non-communi- cable Diseases’ - a report by the World Economic Forum and the Harvard School of Public Health - September 2011 - http://www3.weforum.org/ docs/WEF_Harvard_HE_GlobalEconomicBurden- NonCommunicableDiseases_2011.pdf 2. The Economist – Out of the shadows, 2015 3. The Lancet, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/S0140- 6736(15)60461-5 4. Pilot Psychiatric study, 2013/14. Randomised controlled trial with 19 patients with a mean age of 30.5 and a diagnosis of OCD (n=5) or schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder (n=14). Subjects were randomized to either Treatment as Usual (TAU) or TAU plus MyCognition’s training programme.