Building strength for tomorrow: New President of BetterUp Care™ on extending proactive mental health across the enterprise

September 20, 2021 - 9 min read

OMAR Dawood

This week BetterUp announced the appointment of Omar Dawood MD, MPH, MBA as President of BetterUp Care™. Dawood brings more than 25 years of senior management, medical research, and clinical experience, most recently serving as the Chief Medical Officer and Head of Sales for Calm. In his new role, Dawood will oversee the BetterUp Care™ sales, marketing, and product teams to bring hyper-personalized mental fitness and science-backed preventative solutions, including 1:1 and group coaching, to employers globally.

 

The past 18-months was challenging for everyone. We’ve all said it so much that it’s easy to gloss over what that really means. People have been challenged to their core. They have had to turn inward, facing fears, drawing on internal resources, and re-evaluating their values and choices in life. Organizations, and their leaders, have had to throw out old playbooks and adapt on the fly to support a workforce they can’t see amid real threats to health and safety. 

Now, with angst about returning to work and angst about returning (or not) to some kind of normal, we’re again seeing a huge increase in stress and anxiety. 

It has been challenging. But it also opened the door for some positive and important change. Amid the challenge and suffering, we’ve been given the gift of pause, reflection, and the possibility for change in the way we work and interact. If we take advantage of it, we have the chance to shape a better future of mental health and well-being. 

A unique opportunity to turn toward proactive prevention

The pandemic — and the restrictions and disruptions that came with it — caught us flat-footed. From a mental health perspective, we saw what happens when people only reach out for resources when they are in crisis. We also saw just how inadequate a reactive approach to mental health, focused primarily on the clinically ill, has been.

One of the positives from this past year is the importance of checking in with and supporting each other — whether that’s friends, family, or team members. Another positive is greater awareness that we need to be preparing ourselves to meet whatever challenges arise. Resilience isn’t a new concept, but it’s no longer abstract. Building resilience, turning ourselves and our employees into rubber bands that can actually bounce back, has never been more salient.

The pandemic, and this new-found awareness, is a catalyst. We have a unique opportunity to reframe behavioral health, which has been very reactive for decades, and instead invest in being proactive, and actually preventative. We can look ahead and prepare our employees, our friends and families, and our communities around the globe to start taking care of their behavioral health and preparing themselves for what we know is always around the corner: change, stress, and anxiety.

Globally we’re starting to see a shift toward understanding the need for preventative care. We're seeing a shift toward leaders and employers being willing to have this discussion and support their people. I'm excited that, at this moment, we have the unique ability to extend the BetterUp coaching experience —  intimate, personalized, and evidence-based — to support behavioral health across the enterprise.

Whole people, engaging in their own behavioral health

For 8 years BetterUp has been honing and developing this expertise: meet individuals where they are, understand them as whole people with deeply interconnected personal and professional dimensions, and provide the right interventions at the right time in the right way to support personal growth and professional development. 

This is now a perfect vehicle to create an environment for people to be open about their mental health. Whether that’s in a private setting or a group setting, people can have personalized care plans and support in an easy, empowering way.

But the prevention piece, I think, is the most critical.

This represents a pretty fundamental shift, not just from reactive to proactive, but from episodic mental health treatment for the 1 in 5 people who suffer serious mental illness to preventative mental health support for the 4 out of 5 people who don’t need clinical care at this time.  

At BetterUp we’ve talked a lot about the whole person. How you can’t effectively grow and develop a person as a leader and professional without accounting for — and supporting — the whole person. The inverse is also true. From the mental health side, we can be more effective and more supportive because we're taking into account the entire person. We can improve the mental fitness of each person when we have insight into the behavior patterns and interpersonal dynamics, the beliefs, stressors, and expectations that go with their “front-facing” work side as well.

Similar to the way that you might use nutrition, strength training, cardio, and medicine to improve physical health and ward off damaging chronic diseases, we can more holistically wrap around the individual with skill-building and strengthening, 1:1 interventions, and group experiences to build mental strength and improve behavioral health to stave off more damaging mental health conditions.  We can build more resilient individuals, and more resilient organizations, that grow and get stronger.

What this enables an individual to do is to understand yourself as a whole person and be empowered to engage with your own health.

Standing on the shoulders of digital health and precision development 

Since the sixties, we’ve focused mental health resources downstream, where people have full-blown depression and anxiety. We’ve relied on employee assistance programs (EAPs), which tend to be hard to access, stigmatized, and tuned to the one in five people with diagnosed conditions, leading to very low utilization of these resources.

Yet we know that most employees are upstream. Most are languishing or not quite thriving, the middle space between illness and flourishing. If you invest there, with preventative mental health support, it can save a lot of expensive downstream resources and you can support the majority of people in an organization. You’ll have more people touch the behavioral health system, which is what we want.

My experience from the last decade has been at the forefront of digital health, leading organizations like Ginger (now Headspace Health) and Calm. Being the President and Chief Medical Officer of Ginger and Ginger Medical Corporation, and the Chief Medical Officer at Calm, highlighted two things for me:

1) The importance of innovating employee solutions that are easy, simple, and inviting to get people involved in their own behavioral health.

2) The increasing need for large-scale, preventative behavioral health to reach more people, globally, with effective support.

 

Two important learnings are front-of-mind for me from my time in digital health:

  • Technology alone can’t meet people where they are. It can’t make the deeper human connection that sparks and sustains behavior change over time. It’s different when there is a person on the other side of that technology that is engaging with you and providing insight and actual feedback. 
  • Technology can help extend that reach and dial in that personalized support, but you have to deeply understand how to coach and effect behavior change first. 

Human support in a tech-mediated world

In digital health, everyone started off simply trying to improve access and deliver a high quality of care. People were excited about using AI, machine learning, and a lot of technology to do it.

Then digital health companies started to see how hard it is to use AI and ML for care. They recognized there was a significant unaddressed need just in providing better access to point-solutions. The investment volume and number of companies building offerings for telehealth and virtual care reflect that market. 

But the value of virtual care isn’t just about providing basic access or connecting people with clinicians. It's about creating a technology-enabled framework and backbone that provides a personalized high-touch experience for exactly where you are in your own journey and grows with you and your ever-changing needs. Because some days what you most need is to be better at your job, some days you need to be a better communicator, sometimes you’re looking ahead to achieve certain goals, others you’re dealing with day-to-day stress and professional anxiety. 

Combine this tech-enabled personalization with human-to-human connection and you bring self-actualization within reach, for everyone. 

 

I believe we all have the opportunity to return better from the pandemic. We can help our leaders and organizations — and each employee — think of this past year from both a constructive perspective and an opportunistic perspective. We can consider what we’ve actually learned and what actually makes us better.

Coming out of this challenging time, we can make choices, and we have learned so much. The question is not if, but how, can we best invest in preparing ourselves, our employees, and our organizations to be resilient and best prepared for the challenges that life will put in front of us.

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Published September 20, 2021

Omar Dawood, President of BetterUp Care™

Omar Dawood MD, MPH, MBA brings more than 25 years of senior management, medical research and clinical experience, most recently serving as the Chief Medical Officer and Head of Sales for Calm. As President of BetterUp Care™ he leads sales, marketing and product teams to bring hyper-personalized mental fitness and science-backed preventative solutions, including 1:1 and group coaching, to employers globally.

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