The power of digital tools to transform mental healthcare

mental health 2019

(Unsplash, 2019)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Husseini Manji, Global Therapeutic Area Head, Neuroscience, Janssen & Shekhar Saxena, Professor of the Practice of Global Mental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health



The global burden of mental illness, both in terms of human suffering and economic loss, is catastrophic and rapidly growing. Worldwide, mental health conditions affect more than a third of the world’s population. Just two conditions alone – depression and anxiety – result in a staggering estimated $1 trillion in lost economic productivity.

When committing to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, world leaders emphasized the importance of promoting mental health and well-being worldwide. Yet three years later, the situation remains grim. Every year, 800,000 lives are lost due to suicide. In the United States alone, one in five people is living with a mental illness, and 60% of them receive no treatment. The situation is far worse in many low- and middle-income countries. Existing programmes are often underfunded or fragmented, and stigma continues to restrict individual and collective response. There is an overwhelming need for well-funded and sustained global action.

International organizations are redoubling their efforts on this issue. Forward-thinking members of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Neurotechnologies recently convened to explore the many ways that rapid advances in telecommunications, big data analytics (including machine learning), mobile technologies and biosensors – loosely grouped together under the umbrella term “digital technologies” – are poised to have a profound impact on diverse aspects of mental healthcare and treatment. Digital technologies are becoming increasingly available worldwide and will only continue to advance. Those that relate to our understanding of the brain and behaviour may have a particularly important role to play in improving mental health outcomes.

At their most basic, such interventions could include straightforward telepsychiatry applications. These can deliver care effectively in areas with a low density of mental health professionals, using “remote psychiatrist” videoconferences and low-bandwidth text/SMS services to send medication and appointment reminders, and disseminate information around mental health.

Furthermore, the small, unobtrusive sensors on our ubiquitous mobile devices can capture streaming data on aspects of patients’ physiology, behaviour and symptoms in real time. Though any implementation of policy or practice in this area must be ethically and carefully developed, it is clear that the growing volume of data generated by these devices, and our ability to collect and upload it into centralized servers, presents a tremendous opportunity.

These tools can help enable early diagnosis, track disease progression or course-of-illness data, and predict decline or relapse. This data can also provide physicians with objective information on how patients are doing between clinical visits. As more longitudinal data is collected, machine learning-based models may be able to predict serious oncoming events such as suicide attempts, depressive relapses, psychotic episodes, or panic and anxiety attacks. Use of such predictive tools could also allow for more timely interventions, either digitally or through referral to hospital-based clinical care.

Digital-based mental health interventions have already been shown to work in experimental settings and, in some cases, have been successfully scaled for use in larger populations. The first wave of digital interventions has been based on the web-based administration of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is often assisted by trained psychologists, and is increasingly delivered by autonomous AI-powered chatbots that offer personalized counselling and psychosocial interventions through highly scalable platforms with minimal incremental costs.

Encouragingly, simple and readily accessible technologies such as mobile phone-based interactive voice response systems have already been used in some of the most impoverished communities in Pakistan to identify and assist the families of children with developmental disorders. At the other end of the economic spectrum, programmes such as the MoodGym, developed in Australia, have delivered web-based psychotherapy to more than one million young users, mostly in high-income countries.

Despite the extraordinary promise of such interventions, the Council also discussed the need to develop ethically driven policies and practices in this area. The current landscape is littered with thousands of “apps” with nebulous or misleading claims, backed by little or no evidence. This is true even as increasing numbers of digital therapeutics with specific efficacy claims are going through the regulatory process. Another fundamental hurdle concerns generalization – the ability to scale interventions beyond the scope of the initial study to the general population.

Ethical matters such as the existence of sound evidence to support the utility of any intervention, its ease of use and interoperability, and privacy and security issues must remain at the forefront of any attempt to use digital technologies to improve mental health outcomes. It should be remembered that while seeking and obtaining mental healthcare, people share some of the most personal aspects of their life. Any breach of privacy can be catastrophic for their further well-being. Another key concern is the potential of digital technologies to increase existing inequities across diverse populations in terms of access to care, whether due to economic factors, bandwidth access, language barriers or the possibility that only the most privileged users may have the ability to take advantage of digital technologies.

Humanitarian, social and economic imperatives demand action from global leaders on mental health. Individuals and families are suffering. Economic costs are soaring. Lives are being lost. Nevertheless, the Council sees a promising path forward, driven by the growing ability to harness these ubiquitous technologies and apply them in an ethical manner to improve mental health outcomes worldwide.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Why collective action is the key to saving our forests

EU Commission: Growth first then fiscal consolidation

IMF launches a new offensive against Germany

Transport Committee pledges to stop empty flights due to COVID-19

Africa is helping the drone industry get off the ground. Here’s how

The EU Consumer Policy on the Digital Market: A Behavioral Economics View

South Sudan: UN official welcomes release of women and children abducted by armed group

Calculators didn’t replace mathematicians, and AI won’t replace humans

Mental Health of Health Professionals Facing COVID-19

SMEs are the most valuable partners. Here’s why

EU Commission indifferent on Court of Auditors’ recommendations

What does the world really think about the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

A brief history of cryptography and why it matters

European Commission adopts rules to ensure a smooth transition to its next President and the next College of Commissioners

Hollande protects the euro from the attacks of extremists

A geared turbofan at Pratt & Whitney's production hub in West Palm Beach (copyright: Pratt & Whitney - a UTC Company- 2018; Source: Pratt & Whitney's website, media center)

The EU Commission approves UTC’s acquisition of Rockwell Collins under conditions

Now’s the time to take up cycling – here are 6 reasons why

UN police officer recognized for protecting vulnerable Somali women from abuse

Coronavirus: the truth against all myths

Why exchange programs are essential for the medical students of the 21st century

Here’s why e-mobility must be at the heart of the green recovery

How can we make entrepreneurship serve the greater good?

Malta: Human rights experts call for justice in case of murdered journalist

This is what happened to CO2 emissions in the EU last year

Energy: EU priority projects should be aligned with 2050 climate objectives

EU Commission: Germany can make Eurozone grow again just by helping itself

FROM THE FIELD: Weather reports come to aid of Uganda’s farmers

Good grub: why we might be eating insects soon

5 ways to fast-track the transition to a carbon neutral world

18th EU Eco-Innovation Forum in Barcelona shows the way for Europe’s new Environmental policy

UN and African Union in ‘common battle’ for development and climate change financing

The role of junior entrepreneurs as a bridge between academia and business world

GSMA Mobile 360 – MENA Dubai on 26-27 November 2019, in association with The European Sting

Facebook changes its terms and clarify its use of data for consumers following discussions with the European Commission and consumer authorities

UN chemical weapons watchdog adds new powers to assign blame, following attacks

Brexit: UK business fear of a no-deal scenario preparing for the worst

The new ethical dilemmas in medicine of the 21st century

How building renovations can speed up the electric vehicle revolution

European Commission increases support for the EU’s beekeeping sector

What just happened? 5 themes from the COP24 climate talks in Poland

Launch of Pact for Youth: European Youth Forum calls for real business engagement

Coronavirus could worsen hunger in the developing world

UN highlights profound implication of population trends on sustainable development

Back to the Basics: Primary Healthcare

India’s economy is growing fast, but its poorest areas lag behind. Here’s why this could be about to change

We’ll succeed together

M360 Security for 5G: Security for 5G Predictions 2020, in association with The European Sting

3 ways to nurture collaboration between universities and industry

Unity, regional cooperation and international support needed for Horn of Africa to develop sustainably

Can the US deal a blow to EU and Russia together over Ukraine?

State aid: Commission approves €286 million Finnish measure to recapitalise Finnair

Food safety critical to development and ending poverty: FAO deputy chief

Protect women’s rights ‘before, during and after conflict’ UN chief tells high-level Security Council debate

The EU now has rules that say household appliances must be easier to fix

Data and the future of financial services

EU: Tax evasion and fraud flourish under political protection

MEPs wants to increase research funding to €120 billion in 2021-2027

We had the hottest June ever this year – this is what happened around the world

We can use plastics to change the world for the better

Robots will soon be a necessity but they won’t take all our jobs

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s