Louis Gagnon, CEO and Managing Director, Total BrainLouis Gagnon, CEO and Managing Director
“About 70 percent of the U.S. workforce is suffering or is at risk of suffering from a common mental disorder like depression or anxiety!” cautions Louis Gagnon, CEO and Managing Director at Total Brain. He explains that out of this 70 percent, 20 percent of employees suffer from a mental health condition while the other 50 percent is undiagnosed or untreated and would take, on average, 11 long years just to get diagnosed and receive care. In other words, an individual has to bear the brunt of 11 years of undiagnosed or untreated depression or anxiety due to the lack of education and social awareness; the damage caused to one’s mental health is certainly unimaginable. “The added impetus of COVID-19 has spawned a mental health crisis, increasing the risk of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by almost 60 to 65 percent,” Gagnon adds. Mental distress in employees results in absenteeism and consequently derails productivity for companies.

This is where companies like Total Brain, a premier mental health and brain performance self-monitoring and self-care platform, flip the script in favor of employers and employees. As companies look to lead with empathy and build resilience among their employees amidst a global pandemic, Total Brain is supporting them by improving the mental health and capacities of individuals through brain-based self-awareness and training.

In a conversation with the editorial team at Manage HR, Gagnon discusses at length how Total Brain’s innovative solution helps companies alleviate the impact of mental disorders on their employees and boost their performance and confidence.

Could you shed light on the inception of your company?

Total Brain was founded in 2000 by Dr. Evian Gordon, one of the originators of the field of integrative neuroscience. He worked toward establishing a common vocabulary and platform so that all the neuroscience disciplines, from biology to physics, neurosurgery, and psychology, could understand and speak the same language and learn from one another. For this purpose, Dr. Gordon created an assessment of the entire brain in a digital format, which anyone could take anywhere. This digital format represented the most valid test possible so that all these disciplines use the same assessment and learn from each other by appending more data to a common standard data set. Over the years, we’ve built the largest standardized brain database in the world with information about cognitive profiles, genetic data, EEG, MRI, fMRI, and more. Today, our platform is leveraged by nearly one million employees from multinational corporations like Boeing, Cerner, Kaiser Permanente, and more for three clear benefits—better mental health outcomes, improved productivity, and reduced healthcare costs. Could you elaborate on your self-monitoring and self-care mental health platform?

The human brain has four main functions— emotion, feeling, self-control, and cognition. Emotion creates feelings such as stress, anxiety, or depression, which, in turn, influence our thought, memory, focus, or planning. This impacts how we control ourselves, connect with others, our resilience, and negativity. We evaluate three capacities under each of the four functions, amounting to 12 brain capacities in total.

We define mental health as the full expression of these 12 core brain capacities. A person is healthy when all the capacities are expressed well. Now, the critical question is, “Am I operating at full capacity?” To answer this, one needs to know what the optimum capacity is and understand their state at any given moment, for instance, their stress level or anxiousness in that particular moment. Life happens in front of us, creating different emotions that might result in stress. This leads to a fight-flight response and pushes us into a hyper-focused state, affecting our capacity to use our brain.

With our app, we help our clients’ employees address an issue right at the root in a confidential manner. We then aggregate the data to update clients on their company’s overall mental health performance

To check for the stress level, we need to look into four conditions: clinical depression, clinical anxiousness, PTSD or ADHD, and any trace of addiction. These conditions influence a person’s mental state in the moment as well as the brain capacities in the long run. Our platform helps employees measure all of this in 20 minutes. Using our app with standardized tests, users can get benchmark information or a percentile score on their mental health state. Based on this data, we offer self-care recommendations—breathing exercises, meditation, or cognitive behavioral therapy. Our platform is equipped with positive psychology tools to help users address their risk and capacity. We can also train their memory, focus, and ability to make decisions. Although current health systems identify symptoms and risk, they focus solely on eliminating that risk but miss the mark in building back capacities. This is where we make a difference. With our app, we help our client’s employees address an issue right at the root in a confidential manner. We then aggregate the data to update clients on our performance. The employees can get in-the-moment relief and build their capacities, and after a couple of hours of training, they can move their percentile ranking by 14 points. About 37 percent of our client employee base has been using our tool to self-monitor and screen themselves. It indeed makes a huge positive impact on corporate mental wellness as this group of employees is obtaining timely care and staying healthy. We believe that care is better delivered by doctors, and if needed, our solution provides users with timely health referrals. Our self-care platform complements existing corporate wellness and mental health monitoring solutions on the market and empowers our clients, their employees, and doctors with better data and tools.

What, according to you, steers you ahead of the competition?

We are the only company in the wellness space focused on brain performance. With our tools, we obtain critical data on people’s mental state, and over time, we can improve their health conditions. We can help people when they're sick or at risk and be with them when they are at peak performance. Total Brain is the only platform that integrates throughout a patient's entire life cycle to provide holistic care. What makes us unique is that we leverage data-driven science based on the brain.

What is the next big step your company would be taking?

Presently, our platform requires the user to go through an assessment that takes around 15 to 20 minutes before gaining access to self-care. We aim to reduce the upfront cost of the assessment and provide users with a shorter assessment and general information to get started. In this pursuit, we are focusing on heart rate variability (HRV)— the best measure of one’s stress response. We will use the rear camera of a user’s phone for this purpose. When the user puts his/her finger on the camera, we will give in-the-moment stress reading to the user in two minutes. We will be rolling out the HRV analysis tool this year to be used with phones and potentially also with other wearables, such as bands and watches, for people to track, manage, and alleviate their stress on a continuous basis.