Mental Health

According to the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) carried out in 2014 (conducted every seven years), one in six (17%) of the working age population of Great Britain meet diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder that is popular. The most common of these issues are anxiety and depression since the others fall in-between a combination of the two, though there is an extensive spectrum of distinct diagnoses which result in different symptoms and require different approaches of care.

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The Mental Health Foundation – Fundamental facts about mental health 2016

DigiTOP is concerned by this since these root problems have been the cause of many of the symptoms that we are familiar in testing. For example, current work into human factors has focused heavily on cognitive factors, such as attentional capacity, workload & subject matter expertise. While research has been great in countering these variations, it is not impossible to imagine that an individual plagued with a particular mental disorder is likely to react differently to someone without one when subject to a particular level of workload, or that their attentional capacity may be less. Further, we know that mental health is the largest mediator of mood and its effects.

Despite its importance, mental health is a topic which has been slow to grow up to this point within engineering as a whole. This may be due to the fact that, historically, workers with mental health issues shoulder this burden themselves and remain private through fear of hindering career progression, job loss and/or stigmatization by employees & colleagues. It has appeared as less of a problem than it has been up until this decade.

This presents a difficult issue since psychological research outside of the engineering ‘bubble’ has begun to find that these mental health disorders have a large effect on an individual’s experience of the world – including their relationships with both humans and machines. Interpersonal research has found that individuals with depressive disorders are far more likely to approach relationships with much more caution. Someone that is really depressed struggles to find help for a reason, many shut others out and find it difficult to act on another’s advice.

Despite the lack of progress in this area within automation engineering, we are still finding pockets of positive movement. For example, great strides have been made into self-administered diagnosis. Tools have emerged that allow for non-healthcare researchers to accurately identify individual mental health conditions and their strength. This allows for greater flexibility and reach into different topics of research outside health sciences, such as engineering disciplines.

Following these findings and the global engineering desire to move people into roles in society that we want to perform and will prosper within, ergonomics is starting the push towards a planned future that prioritises people in this way. With advanced technology, we have the opportunity to design an environment that maximises the human experience while also satisfying bottom lines.

As a result, my research contributes towards the DigiTOP project by understanding this industrial cognitive ergonomics and engineering psychology relationship between mental health and individuals. It is my hope, aligned with DigiTOP, that as part of the digital toolkit the human-automated system relationship becomes more efficient to those who use it and allow for greater evidence towards the benefits of prioritising worker mental wellbeing.

Jordan Crawford
PhD Student

Loughborough University

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