September 22, 2021
Photo courtesy of headversity

Interview with Dr. Ryan Todd, CEO and Co-founder of Headversity

headversityHeadversity is a workplace mental health support service that helps employees talk and deal with their mental health, often a frowned-upon topic in industries such as oil and gas. If anything, during the pandemic, we have been able to open up more about our mental health and it is becoming more commonplace and acceptable in many workplaces, including oil and gas.

Eric Eissler: How do you make your services known to your potential clients in the oil and gas industry? As we know, this is normally not an easy group to talk to about these things.

Ryan Todd: We’ve been fortunate to grow into oil and gas through organizations’ focus on health and safety, and leadership’s recognition that psychological health plays a huge part in this. Leaders understand there’s a direct correlation between workplace injury and high stress levels, with 60-80 percent of workplace injuries being a result of stress. Previously, when the world allowed for it, we had the chance to speak at a couple industry events with a few oil and gas companies and, thankfully, our unique approach to workforce mental health resonated. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve also attended some leadership forums with oil and gas execs that have made a few introductions. But, for the most part, we’ve had the good fortune of growing in the industry through referrals from the great relationships we’ve built.

EE: Do you feel that COVID-19 has been helpful for more companies in this space to realize the importance of caring about the mental health of the workers in the oil and gas industry?

RT: It’s definitely accelerated things. One thing throughout the pandemic is that, for the first time ever, we’ve all experienced mental health. Whether loneliness, isolation, depression or even anxiety over job security and finances, this has been tough on everyone. Leaders and employees at all levels have felt it. We saw statistics early in the pandemic out of the University of Houston that 28 percent of employees in the energy sector had six or more “bad mental health days” in the previous month. These figures have seen a huge jump and companies have felt it.

EE: It is very hard for many men in this industry to reach out for help. What are some things that you say or do to help clients feel comfortable when they initially seek help?

RT: What we do that I think has really resonated with this industry is design a proactive mental health experience. We believe that mental health has had a serious brand problem and for this industry, in particular, that needed to change. Support in place up until now has focused on rehabilitating people who’ve fallen ill or need to return to work after a prolonged absence. We knew that to reach workers in this industry, [many of whom] work with their hands and are DIY types who prefer to be in control, we needed to give them tools to proactively build up their mental wellbeing. And, on the employer’s end, it was about helping them build a culture of mental health and psychological safety and working with them as an extension of their team to help with this. Putting them at ease has been two-fold: the first is an anonymous, personalized experience for each worker on our platform, and the second is cascading mental health as a company priority from leadership down.

EE: What is the biggest fear that most mention when seeking help? Are they more worried about what their boss or their co-workers would think about them if they would find out they are getting help?

RT: Our platform is more about giving employees an inexhaustible skillset to build up their mental health and resilience, so that’s the major difference versus coming to us for help. But the experience is entirely anonymous and personalized, and that’s why I think we’re not getting these same stigmatic concerns that have plagued the industry and people from getting the help they need. Employees can use it and, when needed, get directly channeled to their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) or general crisis line, if they’re in distress.

EE: What are some of the usual/general results that you see in most cases after they start seeking help?

RT: Results have been really strong. Quantitatively, employers are seeing their workforce use our platform at five or six times the rate of their EAP or EFAP programs in place. Qualitatively, we regularly hear feedback from employers about how this has made a huge difference in their company culture, and from employees [there is] a sense of relief at how the simple tools and approaches on our platform have reduced their stress and improved their overall mental wellbeing.

EE: Do you feel that once you have established a good connection with a client that individual seems to perform better at his job? If yes, could you say that seeking help and establishing a routine with a counselor is not only something beneficial for the individual, but for the company as a whole? In other words, the more workers that have help, the better they perform, which leads to better overall performance for the company?

RT: The evidence-based approaches on our platform were born out of practices used in psychiatry and performance psychology for more than 20 years in clinic. On the performance psychology end, one of our founders, Dr. Karen MacNeill, consults with the Canadian Olympic team, so performers on the highest global stage use practices that are built into our platform. Without question, if one were to apply these principles, they would see improvement in both their personal and professional life.

EE: Where do you see the state of mental healthcare in the U.S. in 10 years? Could you say that COVID-19 has already sped up the progress of mental health awareness in the oil and gas industry and beyond?

RT: That’s a tough question! In the last decade, some of the stigma has eroded and awareness has increased dramatically overall. But, from a solution standpoint, where we’ve been with mental health isn’t sustainable. As a clinician, the queue for patients to see me is normally upwards of six months, which, to me, highlights a broken system. I look at the future of mental health being, in large part, humanless. We need to take the strategies deployed in clinics and put them into digital formats so they’re accessible to the wider public immediately. The younger population is already pushing for mental wellbeing so, in a span of 10 years, I think we’ll see stigma start to eradicate and wider acceptance that we all have mental health, that we’re not limited to “well” or “ill.”

Headline photo courtesy of headversity

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Eissler, former editor-in- chief of Oil & Gas Engineering magazine, previously worked as an editor for Dubai-based The Oil & Gas Year Magazine.

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