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Software praised for helping people with mental disorders to keep working

by

Kyodo

For managers employing workers with mental disorders, it is vital to detect early signs of changes in their emotional and physical well-being and take action before the symptoms become prominent.

A software program developed by a small website design company in Osaka is intended to enable workers themselves assess their conditions while allowing employers to anticipate changes and adopt flexible arrangements beforehand.

The software, called SPIS, was created by Okushin System to support the company’s policy of promoting employment of people with mental illness.

The system has drawn interest from psychiatrists as a possible tool to prevent work-related mental illnesses from worsening.

The company’s president, Manabu Okuwaki, has actively recruited people with mental disorders and found that the conditions of such people tend to change suddenly and drastically.

The finding led Okuwaki to start monitoring these workers systematically, using an online work report into which employees are advised to enter their conditions on a daily basis.

They are asked to answer a series of questions, including whether they have done all they can to avoid mistakes and if they have slept well through to the morning, in a four-point scale from “bad” to “good.”

The software displays the data from the self-evaluation graphically, so changes in their emotional state and health can be seen at a glance.

Okuwaki found through the monitoring that the workers’ conditions tend to flare up following certain symptoms, such as headache, stomachache and auditory hallucination.

The online report system was developed based on views and opinions presented by employees, especially those with mental disorders.

Judging that it had universal value, Okuwaki decided to sell the monitoring system to other companies. He believes that if quick and adequate measures are taken in response to changes in their conditions, workers with mental disorders will not have to quit their jobs.

Consequently, companies can reduce staff turnover, Okuwaki said.

Risa Urata, 30, has been diagnosed with a developmental disorder that makes social interaction or communication with other people difficult.

She started working at Okushin System two years ago and has been in charge of developing the company’s website.

At her previous companies, Urata frequently experienced uneasiness and depression whenever she felt poorly, and stopped going to work.

She said her SPIS data collected at Okushin System showed she experiences a difficult time about every three months.

“I never realized that it comes in a cycle,” she said.

The company now reduces her workload based on the data.

Since 2013, the Osaka Prefectural Government and various municipalities have subsidized business projects undertaken using SPIS.

Established in 2000, Okushin System has received numerous honors for actively employing people with mental disabilities, including an award from Osaka Prefecture.

The federation of associations supporting employment of people with mental illness has mounted a campaign to spread the software at private companies. Roughly 70 companies, mainly in the Kinki region, have introduced the system.

A survey of about 90 workers who used SPIS for three years through fiscal 2015 found that about 80 percent of them remained at work 18 months after they started using it.

Experts feel it could be worthwhile to share workers’ SPIS data with third parties, such as therapists outside their companies, as well as their supervisors.

“Most mental problems at work get worse if relations between workers and their supervisors are poor,” said Teruhiko Higuchi, a psychiatrist and director of the Japan Depression Center. “Although it is too early to talk about its effects, SPIS could work to prevent employees from developing a major mental illness.”

The center’s Rokubancho Mental Clinic in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, has started using SPIS to support employees with mental illness.

“We need to search for a more effective way to use the system while confirming its positive results,” Higuchi said.