Simon Kinsella: Personality & Mental Health
TM: Welcome to another episode of The Science of Us. Today we are joined by Simon Kinsella who is a clinical psychologist amongst many other things. Simon, welcome to the show.
SK: Thank you, Tim. Glad to be here.
TM: Very glad to have you here. Today, we are talking about a very interesting topic, which is all around mental health and personality. But I wanted to start before that by asking a little bit about you. So as I mentioned, you are a very experienced clinical psychologist. What was the driver for you wanting to continue down that pathway or start that pathway, should I say, when you first began your career? What was it that really drew you to this part of the scientific community?
SK: Well, back when I started, psychology was a relatively new profession during the late '80s. When I was starting University, I think there were something like 5 to 10 privately practicing psychologists in Victoria. There's now somewhere over 3,000, I think. So it was a very exciting time with this career expanding and opportunities to study and learn about mental health.
I'd had some exposure to mental illness through involvement with friends and family who'd experienced their own challenges as well. So I was very interested to learn more about what I could do to help people with those struggles. And so I've been in the profession now for 30 years.
TM: It's a fascinating area. I've got a very large passion for it myself. And I think that we're almost coming into a bit of a--I guess, a dawning of this new era, particularly after the back of things like COVID, that mental health is now probably getting the recognition that it deserves and the attention that it deserves.
I know we've got people in the community who have started things like RUOK day, and it's been gradually growing in the background. But I think where we are now is that people really recognize that mental health is one of the actual cornerstone defining elements of who we are as human beings.
SK: Absolutely. And I think in Australia as well, we had such a rough ride with the COVID pandemic. It really crystallized for a lot of people just how important mental health is and how vulnerable people are and how much support can do to mitigate the risks.
TM: Absolutely. And I noticed on your--when I was looking at your biography before that you were also Chief Science Officer at something called Mesh Health. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
SK: Yeah. So Mesh Health is a relatively new organisation. It's parent organisation is Mesh Assist, which is an artificial intelligence based service provider. So they, for years, have been developing chats for commercial purposes.
But Mesh Health arose during the beginning of the pandemic. We started talking about, what could technology, and in particular artificial intelligence, do to help expand the reach of mental health knowledge and mental health resources?
So using artificial intelligence, what we're able to do is to engage people in conversations about mental health, and provide them with timely, relevant resources, whether that's within the digital ecosystem, or connecting people to health professionals who are able to provide the right treatment.
TM: Fantastic. How long has that been going for now? You said, it's a relatively new venture?
SK: Yeah. So we started to form the ideas in about late 2020. And earlier this year, we actually launched a product called Simpatico on the Microsoft Teams marketplace. So we're in the marketplace currently, and off to a good start.
TM: Oh, fantastic. I mean, there's definitely a huge need for a product like this. So we look forward to hearing a little bit more about how it goes and perhaps we do that on a future episode. Can we maybe dive into the topic of today, which is all about mental health and personality?
And maybe if I start by asking your view on--if you can explain the relationship between personality and mental health. How do those intersect and influence each other?
SK: Well, personality is considered to be relatively stable. So if we think about things like introversion and extroversion for instance, they're characteristics that are likely to stay pretty steady over time. Within the theoretical models--probably the most common theoretical model is what's called the five factor or the big five model, which talks about neuroticism extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness as the five big personality factors.
And amongst those, the extroversion in particular is probably the most stable and the most unlikely to change over time. The others will change to some extent, depending on life circumstances and life experiences, but they don't change quickly. So they're shaped over long periods of time.
Mental health, on the other hand, is more likely to be much more transitory. So if you think about things like episodes of depression or anxiety, you think about things like eating disorders, perhaps obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, all of these things tend to occur in episodes. And while some mental illnesses can last a very long time, most of them will come and go over relatively short periods of time.
TM: In terms of that last point you were making there, are seeing more of this now occur in terms of--you mentioned the difference of transitory periods that we go through. Is it we are now living in a time that people are more likely to experience more of those, I guess, bursts of--particularly maybe on the negative side of things when they go through those mental health challenges or is it just because we know more now than we used to?
SK: Look, I think it's a bit of both.
There's no doubt we're much more aware of what constitutes a mental illness. So lay people are much more au fait with what a mental illness is, and that's partly out of awareness raising campaigns. You mentioned Are You OK earlier. There's other organizations like BeyondBlur and the Black Dog Institute, eating disorders foundations, all of these bodies are doing a great job of raising people's awareness of what mental health problems are.
But we're also living in an interesting times having just been through the pandemic as well. There was a big increase in anxiety disorders as a result of the pandemic.
Also amongst school girls in particular, there was a rise in eating disorders in response to the pandemic.
And we're living in a time of a lot of environmental change too. So we're seeing much more significant damage through fires and floods and so on. And that's creating stress for people as well as they think about what the future might hold. So I would say yeah, there's contributions from both sides.
TM: That's fascinating. So why was it that--in particular, if I look at one of those examples of the three you just gave there, why is it that particularly with girls eating disorders went on the rise as a result of the pandemic?
SK: Well, we're not exactly sure. But as a practitioner, what I would infer from the situation is that eating disorders are often connected to people grappling to get a sense of control. Obviously, there's body image issues and social pressures as well. But often when people feel like they don't have control over certain aspects of their life, they seek to control whatever they can. And food is one of those things that can be relatively easily controlled at will.
TM: It's so interesting how this manifests. In terms of the type of people you're looking at here as well, one thing I was interested in was whether or not genetics has this, I guess, a role in how it shapes our personality and therefore mental health? Are the people that have gone through and particularly the rise of things that we saw even off the back of COVID, is it almost like a lot of those people were sitting there like a dormant volcano in a way?
And then because of shifts at a lower level and everything else and the surrounding environment, all of a sudden, everything just started exploding and it came out? Like, were these people more predisposed to have these mental health episodes or disorders because of who they were at their deepest level?
SK: There's certainly a genetic influence. So some people are more genetically predisposed.
There's not an ironclad correlation between gene and--environment or genes and mental illness.
Different mental illnesses are related to different genetic influences. So in genetics, they talk about a poly gene effect. So you have multiple genes producing multiple little enzymes or other neurotransmitters and so on. And they all interact with each other to affect personality and every other aspect of the way that our body functions for that matter.
So there's these very complex relationships that exist within the genetic environment, but also between our genetic background and our environmental situation as well. So for some people, different genes will get switched on or off by different environmental influences.
And sometimes, people with exactly the same genes--so if you think about identical twins. Identical twins going through the same situation might not respond in the same way. So they might not both develop a mental illness, for instance. So we're a long way off, I think, really understanding how those relationships work and why some genes get switched on for some people and not for others.
TM: And you also mentioned earlier things like introvert, extrovert. And I'm interested in context of particularly on the personality side of things, you mentioned that the bush fires actually created a bit of a rise in particular mental health episodes and disorders. What sort of personalities would get more affected by that and what have you seen about why that would be the case?
SK: Well, just in general if you look at the sorts of things that are protective factors, things like being connected socially is considered to be a protective factor for mental health. Because when we're connected to people, we are more likely to find support in our community, we're more likely to feel a sense of hope because other people are able to bring other things to the situation to help us get through difficult situations.
So an extrovert is more likely to look outwards for support or connect to the community or get involved in some way. So you can see at a very simple level how that one personality factor might drive a more positive outcome for an individual.
TM: Yeah. I'm thinking about my own experience, particularly throughout the pandemic. I would probably class myself more--I mean, this is always the interesting thing as well, as to what is the actual definition of introvert and extrovert because it does vary quite widely.
Many people have probably just always thought about, oh, I'm an extrovert because I like being around people or I'm an introvert because I like being by myself. I mean, maybe before I ask that next question, I know you got a little bit of it there particularly on the extrovert side, but what would be your definition of introvert and extrovert?
SK: So introverts are very comfortable in their own space. They like having time to themselves. They often find social interaction tiring. So they talk about feeling like their social battery has gone flat if they've spent too much time in or around other people.
It's not that they're shy. It's not that they feel socially anxious. They just feel a bit more drained by social interaction than an extrovert.
Extroverts often talk about having their energy restored by being around other people. So the more that they're with other people, the more energetic they feel. And this introversion and extroversion exists on a continuum. So there are people who are at each extreme, and the extreme extroverts find it very hard to be away from other people.
They want to be interacting with others all the time, which sounds good at one level. But on the other hand, it often means that their close personal relationships aren't so strong. So their marriages, for instance, might suffer because they're always off wanting to connect with other people.
Most people would sit--if you think about a bell curve in psychology, we talk about normal distributions of certain traits. So the majority of people sit somewhere in the middle. So sometimes, they feel like they want to interact with people, sometimes they feel like they don't. And that's what we would expect with most of those personality traits.
TM: That would make a lot of sense thinking again, now coming back to the question that I was going to ask that, again, during the pandemic, I generally will think of myself as much more of an extrovert. I know that editor and senior producer Jean Claude Rob would probably agree with that because I do seemingly draw my energy from being around other people.
I get most--I feel like I've been plugged into a charging unit if I have been up on stage presenting or whatever and I get back or if I've been hosting an event or I literally feel like my battery is full. But I definitely will have times where I do like to--
I'm not in I'm not actually interested in talking to anyone. I just need to recharge, go the other way. So I'm probably definitely one of those people in flux as what you were saying.
But it's interesting because if I think back to the pandemic, being this person that does love these interactions, most of the time, I also have found the pandemic to be quite an interesting experience because I now find myself being very happy--previously I probably couldn't have worked at home, for example.
I would have probably really struggled, and I even remembered doing it at one stage where I was just sitting there, and I almost became depressed. I remember feeling tired all the time and everything else. I couldn't understand it. And then I spoke to someone. They said, you actually sound like you're getting a bit depressed just being by yourself and with nothing else around.
Now, having said that, I've now found it that I am very comfortable being at home, and probably more prefer it. Still, it's like if I go and go into the CBD and I have a series of meetings, I feel like I have been plugged into a charging station. I definitely still have that. So it seems to be innately more who I am, but I am also still comfortable at home. So does that sound like I don't know I don't know who I am or is that just a natural thing?
SK: So if I was working with you as a therapist, I'd say you're probably--if you imagine the midpoint of that introversion-extroversion spectrum, you're more on the extrovert side of that midpoint. But like most people, there are times where you just need to be by yourself and what I call defragging, to use a computer term. You need to clear your head, just find your feet again, and work out what you need to be doing and who you need to be connecting with.
And I think for a lot of us through that pandemic period with the isolation and working from home, we actually were forced to structure our time at home to be productive. And one thing workplaces do well generally is provide that structure. You come in, you know what you're supposed to be doing each day, you have those social interactions with people, and you get things done.
And you feel good because you've achieved something at the end of the day. Working from home in that forced way really helped us to bring that structure home, and also to keep communicating with people through the day as well. So even though we couldn't be in their physical presence, we could still connect.
TM: That's probably the difference that I would note between my previous experience when--I think it was around 2017 or so. It was very different then. What we're doing now even, for example, wasn't as common, doing the video call and everything else. It was all about you had to be there in person.
That was just how we conducted business.So I probably still got my energy from the interactions that I had with other people. I know I had a number of--we had great times throughout the pandemic where I know obviously making good of a bad situation, but where we would have our weekly trivia nights and just the things that we would try to do to make that social connection still a thing so that we didn't lose touch of who we were.
But I suppose even as I ask you all this stuff, what rings true to me is that most of us just don't have that understanding of who we are, the triggers that we have, how we're built up and made so that--
I guess the question I have is, how can an understanding of who you are, particularly your personality type, your behavior, help that particular if you're going to seek the right mental health or support or treatment or even know that you need support in the first place? How do you find that happens? What's the relationship between that understanding about who you are as a person and what you then need to do about it?
SK: Well, it's a little bit like what you were describing about your own experience of your first experiences of working from home, recognizing that something didn't feel right. And it was--maybe that was your first realization of how much social contact meant to you and how important it was for you. But I think there's a few different ways of approaching it.
So some people would try to be very scientific about it and try to analyze exactly where they sit on those five personality factors. And then to think about, well, if, for instance, I'm not a very open person, what are the implications for mental health for that? So somebody who's not open, for instance, will find it harder to be flexible and adapt to different situations. So that person might think then, well, what can I do to actually develop that side of my personality more so if I'm challenged, I can adapt more and I can work with the changes of the circumstances.
For a lot of people though--a lot of people won't be as scientific about it. A lot of people won't necessarily have the same access to resources to understand their personalities in the same way. I think one way that people can come to understand themselves better is to ask people around them to tell them what they think of them.
So have those kind of discussions with friends and family and say, well, what do you perceive makes me tick? What kind of a person do you think I am? Do you think I am introverted or extroverted? Do you think I do worry too much? Do you think I deal with problems well? And it's how you take that information and use it that will help you develop as well as you possibly can.
TM: And as a professional in this space, that would lead me to then ask a related question, which is around what common misconceptions people would have about the relationship between personality and mental health in particular of--obviously, you're a professional. People should be seeing people like yourself or other qualified professionals if they want to go deep and really have that understanding. And obviously, as you said, there's other questions that they can ask. But what would be some of those misconceptions that would exist about personality, and then therefore what that would mean from a mental health perspective that a commonly held out?
SK: Look, I think probably the most common myth is that I suppose mental illness is a sign of a weak personality, and mental illness is not a sign of a weak personality. And it's not even that tightly connected to where you sit on those five dimensions.
So you could be quite a neurotic person, but you might not ever develop an anxiety disorder.It just depends on those other factors. The environmental factors, for instance, that we were talking about. There is some relationship, there is perhaps some predisposition, but it's not a sign of weakness.
I think the other thing is that personality can't change over time.That's the myth.The reality is that, as I said earlier, introversion and extroversion is probably the most stable and the most unlikely to change with any influence. But things like how open you are, things like how agreeable you are, things like how neurotic you are all going to be much more affected by your life experience and how you think about those experiences as well.
TM: So then that makes me think, OK, so you say that personality, it doesn't--it does change more than we think it does in terms of--I mean, we probably would have--well, I'm guessing I'm saying as well from the perspective of looking at the science behind something like deep sphere with Katharina.
And she will talk about really hard coded genetic memories that exist and have travelled with us for thousands of years that will form a very core base of who we are and how we're affected by different things. But then you're saying that there's stuff on top of that obviously, that it will change again because there's those--there is two--it's almost like this is going to do it no justice at all, but thinking about a mortgage with fixed and variable. I mean, is that some of what you're saying there?
SK: Yeah. To put it in another way, I suppose I'm not that familiar with Katharina's concepts of those hard coded things. But what I would say about those basic human instincts, if you like, is that if you look at just the fear response that people have, that's a very hard coded response. So it's built into the structure of our brain.
And if you look at things like the size of a particular part of the brain called the amygdala, people with a small amygdala tend to have a much smaller fear response than people with a normal size or a large amygdala. And that's been borne out in research into soldiers in the United States where they've looked at people who've been decorated for acts of bravery.
And they've found that the more decorated a person is, the smaller their amygdala is. So the less capable they are of feeling fear. So that's probably a really clear example of how these things have evolved in our genes over time. But these other things--if you think about somebody who is perhaps not neurotic to start with, you think about a 20-year-old who feels invincible, they feel like they're invulnerable to anything.
You take that same person and put them through a series of adverse events that they don't expect, there's potential for that person to become more and more neurotic because they haven't seen the problems coming. They haven't predicted that they might get cancer, and then their cat dies, and then they lose their job, and then these series of life events.
And these things to some extent are fairly random as well. So you can't necessarily prepare a person for the particular suite of life events that's going to happen to them. So you could see perhaps over a 10 year period, how someone who starts off as being not neurotic at all, by the time they've reached 30 and they've had all these unexpected events happen to them might become more neurotic.
TM: So is a lot of this more defined when you are younger and growing up? I know that a lot of people will talk about when you have faced adverse things, particularly in childhood, that that can have a very big impact on who you are growing up. But can it equally be said that to your point there that you could have a period, even if you were an adult, but then you have a whole series of things happen to you like ongoing, ongoing, ongoing, that it can knock you down?
I know maybe a connected part to that is that I do know a number of people that have had that happen to them where they had these--they're gung-ho, like let's just give life everything we've got.
And despite the fact that they've been thrown challenge, after challenge, after challenge, they still have this amazing ability to stay strong. So underneath that, is it that some people will just enough is enough and they crack earlier whereas some people have a higher level and then that comes back down to the amygdala as well and the size that you have? Yeah.
SK: Look. There's a couple of elements to that question. If you think about early childhood experiences, there's no question that early childhood experience affects personality. And there's a class of mental illness called a personality disorder or personality disorders that are connected very strongly to early childhood experiences.
One of the common personality disorders is called borderline personality disorder. And it's a very confusing name because it really doesn't tell you very much.
The name borderline personality disorder was first used because it was thought that this personality structure was somewhere on the borderline between neurotic and psychotic. Again, it doesn't really tell you very much.
But what we know from looking at the early childhood experiences of those people is that most of them have had some sort of childhood trauma, or they've had an environment where there's insecure attachment. So a parent who perhaps runs hot and cold. You don't know whether you're going to get love or aggression, or love or absence.
And yeah, sometimes children who've had foster experiences and gone through multiple homes where they're having to form one attachment after another, those people can develop this borderline personality structure where one of the common traits is that they'll latch on to people very tightly. And so they actually idealize the person, and then the person lets them down in some way. So they go from idealizing them to then demonizing them with a very--a very small problem occurs in the relationship to trigger that switch.
So that's an example. We also know that for children brought up in a very stressful environment, it does actually affect the rate at which their brain grows. We don't really know yet exactly what the consequences of that are, but the brain--the rate of brain growth is not the same for somebody who's brought up in a loving, caring, supportive household versus someone who's brought up with violence or other stress going on around them.
SK: So it really can profoundly affect people.
TM: That's fascinating. And what about things like cultural or religious backgrounds or anything like that? Does anything like that play into to personality as well?
SK: Well, to an extent.If you think about cultures that value social connection and value the extended family, those kind of cultures are building in a protective factor. Because as I said before, social connection is generally a positive thing for mental health because you've got multiple people that you can turn to if you're under stress. If you live in an environment where you have little or no social connection, then you're trying to understand the world and solve the problems by yourself or with limited resources.
So those kind of cultural factors make a difference.
Faith can make a difference too. So if you're brought up in a very religious environment, Faith can actually help people to make sense of the world. And you see people of faith who will say they put their fate in the hands of their God. And for them, that's a great source of comfort. But it's different things to different people.
TM: So Simon, as we talk about all of this, a lot of it comes down to people must be fascinated by thinking, well, who am I? How am I more susceptible to things like stress or anxiety or depression? What advice would you give to people that want to better understand their own personality? I know you had some really good advice before about just talking to some other people. What else would you say if people really want to deep dive and get a broader understanding of who they are?
SK: Well, I think before seeking professional help, what I'd encourage people to do is to actually take the time to notice each day what they're affected by. So a lot of people go through life. They don't think too hard about what's affecting them unless something really significant happens.
But journaling and thinking about, what are the things that make you feel good? What are the things that make you feel bad?And as far as feeling bad goes are you feeling anxious or sad?
Are you thinking too much? Are you losing sleep? Being really specific about what is the connection between what's happening in your life and how it's affecting you really helps you get clearer about what that personality structure is like.
The social connection talking to people, talking to friends and family and so on is a bit like holding a mirror up to yourself and saying, how am I coming across to people? And you can have those very direct conversations about who am I, how am I, what impression do I make on people? But you could also notice the effect you have on people too.
So just being a bit more self aware of how people react to the way that you behave and the way you interact with them.
Those things are really helpful. Of course, though, to really deep dive into it, I think, it is important to speak to a mental health professional because they have all the tools. They have the questionnaires. They have the experience to actually help you to get to the nub of what it is you're trying to solve.
TM: And think that the other thing on this, I've noticed that there are more of these mood tools. I notice that Apple actually has one that I've just been getting prompted-- I think I was in the health app just playing around with the app there, and I'm now just logging that every day.
It's quite an interesting exercise just to understand what affected you on each day, et cetera because it is--you don't really get that understanding until you can step back and say, OK, this in particular, whether it's my work life or my family life, these things impact me more than other areas do. And just having that general level of self awareness becomes really powerful in terms of what you can do with it.
SK: Yeah. And that's whether you're using an app or whether you're doing it on a notepad or something like that, whatever it whatever it is.
Not everybody has access to technology either. So actually, just doing it simply can be just as beneficial so long as there's that structure around doing it regularly and thinking about how you are on a regular basis.
TM: Yeah, absolutely. Well, one of the things I wanted to turn to now was probably coming back to the experience you have with Mesh Health, particularly Simpatico that you mentioned. Because we've talked here a lot about the baseline of people as who they are in general, but the workplace is obviously something that's been huge in a big focus on mental health, things psychological safety and more and more of that.
Now, in your experience and your perspective, how has our understanding of mental health in the workplace evolved particularly in recent years? We talked about the pandemic a little bit already, but what are some of the other key trends that you're observing when it comes to mental health in the workplace?
SK: Well, I think we're in quite a unique environment in Australia because we have the toughest workplace health and safety legislation in the world. So organizations are actually really forced to consider how the workplace is affecting people's mental health. At the end of the day, if you think about most corporations, the thing that every business has in common is that they want to make money.
And I think traditionally, businesses have been very focused on, what do we need to do to keep the doors open and keep the money coming in, and keep the shareholders happy, and keep the business owners happy? But what we're starting to see more now is that there's a growing recognition that a mentally healthy workforce and a psychologically safe workplace actually improves productivity and it improves retention in the organization. So you don't lose staff so much to turn over because they're unhappy.
So there is a financial benefit to companies, as well as that, I guess, the moral and social imperative to provide a psychologically safe workplace. And as a result, we're starting to see organizations like insurers, we're starting to see in the legislation, that organizations have to consider a whole suite of different factors that affect psychological safety at work.
TM: Yeah. And I think--I mean, I know that--again, my experience has been much more closely with how people just deal with things at work on going--and it's interesting that you mentioned that point of productivity because I know that productivity is one of these major focuses at the moment as we talk about inflation out of control, et cetera. The other big debate is how do we get more productivity?
But I think a lot of people would argue that they probably feel like they're more productive than they've ever been, particularly with this advent of working from home. I know that I would do far more now. Even when I would go into an office, you would notice the big difference between how much time is lost. While it's gained in things like social interaction, it's lost in terms of productivity.
Do you think that we are at a bit of a risk that if we're trying to maintain--particularly off the back of the COVID pandemic, are we running a risk here if we then start to focus really, really hard on things like productivity because there obviously have to be a balance to that? You say, productivity, you want to earn as much money as you can. And everybody feels like they're probably working every single hour of the day. The focus is never off.
Are we at a bit of a risk there with mental health?
SK: Yeah. Look, I think what we're seeing and what we're seeing a lot of since the start of the pandemic is burnout. So a lot of people are feeling like the boundaries between work and home life are much more blurred.
The capacity to switch off is reduced by the reach of technology and emails and all these other messaging platforms. So the balance--there needs to be really careful consideration of what the balance is.
And if you look at the different elements of a mentally healthy workplace, there are things like, what are the job demands?
How much control do people have? How much support do people have?
Are there adequate resources and reward and recognition and so on? So all of these things come to bear on whether the workforce will get burned out.
TM: And are there specific industries that you think are more susceptible to mental health challenges over others or is it just everybody's in a similar boat?
SK: Oh, look, there's no doubt that specific industries have their specific challenges. So if you think of first responders and the military, for instance, there's a much higher rate of post-traumatic stress disorder in those professions just by virtue of the fact that they're dealing with very confronting scenarios on a regular basis. With things like FIFO workers, Flying In, Flying Out to remote workplaces, there's a much higher incidence of problems like depression, and a higher incidence of drug and alcohol related problems for those workers.
But any environment where there's really significant change--and that could be significant growth, or significant shrinkage, could be an environment where there's acquisition of new parts of the business, so there's constant integration and development and that never being in a position where you feel like the organization is stable is inherently uncomfortable for some people.
So you I think you're always going to confront things like getting that balance right between the right size workforce for the workload. And that's going to be common across all industries.
TM: And this probably comes back to your role with Mesh Health and Simpatico because how is it that employers can get better at communicating--we've talked about this a lot already, but it's this thing that not a lot of people will openly share. I think probably people are more predisposed to not wanting to share than to sharing.
How can employers get better at actually talking about those mental health needs and challenges that they have to their employers without this internal fear of the stigma or the repercussions that they might get if they open themselves up?
SK: Well, look, one of the really comfortable things, I suppose, about technology is that so many people in the community these days are very tech savvy. We have digital natives now who have been dealing with technology all their life. So what we're finding is that people are very comfortable talking to a computer even though they know they're talking to an artificial intelligence.
So organizations can use things like technology to engage people to--as I said earlier, with Simpatico, we're providing people with resources to help them bolster their mental health. And that could be digital resources like connecting them to things they can be doing for themselves, or it could be connecting them to a psychologist or to an emergency department or something like that depending on the level of need.
So workplaces have the capacity to deploy these technologies now. And the technology really offers an opportunity to do something that's totally removed from stigma because you're not speaking to a human. You're not worried about disclosing something to a boss that might then color the way the boss perceives you and color the opportunities that you get given.
But in workplaces where there aren't the technologies, the risk of being able to disclose things without any sort of stigma or repercussions is higher. So you have to be quite careful about the way you approach it. You might, for instance, think about whether you disclose it to an HR person, or whether there's a psychological--sorry, a mental health first aid officer that you can actually disclose these things to.
You might also want to consider talking to a mental health professional first to get a bit of guidance about how to handle these things in the workplace. So the challenges are much greater when you're talking to another human about your mental health problems at work because you can't be 100% sure of how they're going to react.
The advantage also for the workplace is that the technology--and with Simpatico in particular, the technology actually allows large workplaces to gather overall statistics about what's going on in the organization. So the organization will know, for instance, whether 50% of their population is anxious, or 50% are depressed, or what--they'll have that psychological topography, if you like, of the organization. And they'll be able to look at what things are happening across time that influence whether the workforce is getting more or less anxious or more or less depressed and work out how to intervene in those scenarios.
TM: Yeah. I'm thinking as you were talking, there as well just back to the stigma point around while we've come a long way I think as a society. We still have a bit of a challenge when it comes to particularly insurance I think you mentioned insurance before. Because as soon as you come out and say anything about mental health and insurance, that all of a sudden will exclude you from all sorts of cover as a result.
So I think that there's broader probably structural regulatory political change that's required as well to make people feel like they can be truly honest about things there as well. When it comes to workplaces truly understanding their people--because there's probably there's two parts there about--we've talked about the mental health aspect of how you raise it.
But is there merit in organizations understanding their people much better when it comes to who they are from a behavioral profiling, personality profiling, et cetera, predictive profiling standpoint because that then will help them interact with those people in a different way as they would if they were just coming at someone with a blank slate and not knowing anything about them?
SK: Look, it's a bit of a two edged sword. I think on whole, the more about your workforce, the better, the more you're able to then tailor things to what your workforce needs. So if you're in an organization, for instance, of highly trained well-educated professionals, their needs are going to be different from people who have low education, maybe limited literacy, or limited use of English as a first language.
And you're going to need to have different supports for those two very diverse types of populations. Where the risk lies is in saying, well, we have a very professional educated workforce. So we're going to take this approach to look after our workforce.
Not necessarily recognizing that yes, 80% of your workforce is highly educated professional people, but you've got 20% of people who are less well educated who perhaps don't necessarily feel like they fit in with that other 80% because they don't have the qualifications or experience or so on. And so you can't--you've got to be careful that if you're going to adopt an approach, that it's nuanced enough to take account for the different subsections within your population.
TM: Yeah, that makes total sense. One thing--I'm conscious of our time, but one thing I wanted to perhaps end on, which is very relevant to what you're doing with Simpatico, but more broadly, what is the absolute thing that's in Vogue at the moment is AI. And I wanted to ask just a couple of questions related to that. So the first one is, where do you see AI--there are positive standpoints from what you're doing with Simpatico.
Do you feel that there are--from a broader external almost environmental factors, do you feel that people will be more worried about things like AI in the workplace from what it will do to their jobs and the fact that their security will be gone? Like, is AI almost this thing that will create its own mental health challenges more broadly because of what people perceive it may be possible or capable of doing?
SK: Look, there's no question that it's already having that effect in some sectors of the population. So we're seeing people like writers, for instance, getting very anxious. We're seeing creative, people who are maybe artists or cartoonists already actually being replaced by AI. So it's already happening to those people. No doubt it's a huge source of stress for them.
When it comes to mental health, for instance, I think there's a degree to which some of the psychological work that we do as therapists can be replaced--the basic psychoeducation, connecting people to resources, educating people about what mental health problems are, and basic types of therapy. Those things can be provided by AI or by digital environments.
Where it's going to get, I think--where AI is limited, I think, is where you come to a scenario where people have developed a mental illness. And understanding the complexities and the effectiveness of the treatment is going to be difficult for an AI to achieve.
Although I do think we will see opportunities for AI to assist therapists in doing therapy if we, for instance, use ambient technologies like Siri or Alexa where you might have an AI in a therapy session listening to what's going on and providing suggestions to the therapist. Those kinds of things could be extremely helpful.
TM: And what's one thing if I could ask you, one thing that you would say to people, particularly in the industries that you called out there that are worried about AI? What are some coping techniques or strategies or things they should just be thinking about when it comes to how they can approach AI, what it means for them, and what it might impact in terms of their own state of mental health?
SK: Yeah, that's a really good question. I think if you look at changes in the commercial world over the last 100 years, there's been a huge amount of change to the types of jobs that have come and gone. And if you're in one of those professions which could be replaced completely by AI, it is important to think about how that is going to relate to you personally and what you want to do about that situation.
In industry, a lot of people talk about having a Kodak moment. Kodak was a company that produced film for cameras, and they believed that digital photography was never really going to take off in the way that film existed. Kodak, of course, went broke because they stuck with just producing film. They didn't get involved in the digital technology revolution that was occurring.
And I think there's potential for more Kodak moments to come in the future. So while it's stressful and frightening and confronting for some people to think that technology might replace them, I would be encouraging those people to think about what is unique about what they do as a human, and how can they continue that in the workforce or even just for their own enjoyment?
So you might, for instance, be an artist whose role is going to be replaced by technology.
You might then have to think about, well, how do I continue to do art and get the pleasure and the engagement out of art but at the same time make a living? So where am I going to look to? What am I going to move to? How am I going to adapt to be able to continue to make a living in a world where my previous source of income is just not relevant anymore?
It's a very confronting and difficult thing to consider. But for those people who are in those roles that are more likely to be replaced, unfortunately, I think the reality is that they have to start to get creative about how they move forward with their careers.
TM: Yeah. I think there's a lot of questions that people will be asking of themselves as we continue down this path of, I think, also even just understanding what AI is and the capabilities that it has because I think that people are very familiar with ChatGPT and a lot of the things that can do.
But I think we're only scratching the surface in terms of what true artificial intelligence, that sentient being actually is going to look like. So definitely a lot, and this has been an absolutely fascinating conversation, Simon.
Thank you for going over many different areas. Where can people find out a little bit more about you and particularly things like Simpatico?
SK: The most straightforward way to get in touch with me is by email or through Mesh Health. So my direct email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And we can also provide the URLs for Mesh Assist and Mesh Health for people to contact us.
TM: Fantastic. We will definitely do that as part of the show notes. But Simon Kinsella, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it, and we hope to chat again soon.
SK: That's my pleasure. Thank you, Tim. Thanks for having me.