Ross O’Brien, managing director at Wysa, argues that, harnessed in the right way, technology offers tremendous opportunity and hope for the future of mental health services
Technology is blamed for many things. Among them is the rise in mental illnesses such as depression.
Social media has been linked to a rise in low self esteem and social anxiety for teenagers and adults. And, according to psychologist, Jean M Twenge, technology has resulted in millennials being on the ‘brink of a mental health crisis.’
A recent study found that social media channels impact particularly on the mental health of girls, especially those aged 11-13.
However, there’s no hard evidence that this is actually the case, according to researchers at Oxford University.
At the same time as blaming social media and technology for society’s ills, we’re spending more time than ever on our phones – typically 4.8 hours a day.
A long-term vision
Personalised care is a key part of NHS Long Term Plan. But the NHS is also aware that it does not have the therapist resources to meet this aim.
We need truly-personalised solutions that meet people’s needs in a way that works for them.
It is for this reason that the NHS has been increasingly embracing digital solutions over the past few years.
People don’t want to stop using their phones and apps, and nor should they have to. Instead, we need to meet them where they are.
Harnessed in the right way, technology offers tremendous opportunity and hope.
There has been growing acceptance of digital health tools during the pandemic, and personalised care and self-management solutions are a key part of the NHS approach
With depression the largest cause of disability, according to the World Health Organization, it’s time to consider just how technology can be a force for good.
Gamification in healthcare is gaining momentum, with attempts to apply gaming principles to improve patient clinical outcomes.
This approach uses behavioural science and nudge theory, but can also help build empathy and emotional relationships, called a therapeutic alliance, as our recent research shows.
Putting the patient in control
As well as offering support, digital tools can incentivise healthy behaviour and offer personalisation and a way to put consumers in control of their care.
Every person should be able to access mental health services, unhindered by the backlogs caused by staff shortages or cumbersome manual processes.
But, when people come forward asking for help, it is often because they are past the point of no longer being able to manage on their own.
The NHS is now trialling a ‘digital front door’ that gives immediate 24/7 access to mental health support via AI-guided therapy so that everyone can access support at that first moment of need.
We know that some people feel excluded and that health inequalities still exist across society.
By providing a more-accessible solution in this way, we aim to address this issue.
There has been growing acceptance of digital health tools during the pandemic, and personalised care and self-management solutions are a key part of the NHS approach.
The role of e-triage
Technology can play an effective role in identifying the best treatment options, with solutions for e-triage and streamlined diagnosis through artificial intelligence making it easier to find the right solution for each individual, and address urgent needs, fast.
An e-triage solution that is evidence based and built around existing protocols can automatically direct people towards the right solutions for them, as and when they need them; streamlining the system and clearing the overwhelming number or less-urgent cases to help prioritise those who need higher-intensity treatment.
By sharing real-time patient data with electronic patient records during the waiting period, technology can help identify high-risk responses and flag those needing urgent attention.
Technology can play an effective role in identifying the best treatment options, with solutions for e-triage and streamlined diagnosis through artificial intelligence making it easier to find the right solution for each individual, and address urgent needs, fast
There is also a growth in apps and self monitoring tools for information and self management. Yet we can go beyond this.
A new generation of clinically-robust tools that use evidence-based cognitive-behavioural techniques (CBT), meditation, breathing, and mindfulness exercises, as well as micro actions to help users build mental resilience skills, can transform the landscape of healthcare, simply because this approach is so scalable.
Easing the pressure
It can play a part in helping to guide people to resources which target their key symptoms while they remain on psychotherapy waiting lists, while easing the pressure off overstretched therapists and clinicians.
By supplementing clinical assessments and treatments with electronic triage and artificial intelligence-driven, guided self-help interventions, people are able to share their information at the right time for effective management.
Instant 24/7 access to interactive, AI-guided, mental health support means that patients can immediately start to manage their symptoms, preventing their mental health from deteriorating further, which can be a problem for patients awaiting therapy.
By supplementing clinical assessments and treatments with electronic triage and artificial intelligence-driven, guided self-help interventions, people are able to share their information at the right time for effective management
And, by offering these solutions, more clinical staff time and energy can be focused on supporting those who need them, as well as helping reduce strains on workload that is causing people to leave the workforce.
Given that we spend so much time on our phones, it would seem a natural choice to use this as a vehicle to reach more people.
We need to find even more innovative ways of increasing capacity within mental health services, in a person-centred way that gives people access to what they need, when they need it.
From our point of view, technology could be the solution to the problem, not the cause of the problem.
The NHS is committed to doing the right thing for patients and patient-orientated and recovery-focused care with long-term outcomes in mind should always be the goal.