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.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the European Sting Milestones

Featured Stings

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

Germany’s strong anti-bribery enforcement against individuals needs to be matched by comparably strong enforcement against companies

Pesticides: MEPs propose blueprint to improve EU approval procedure

‘Continue working together’ UN chief urges DR Congo, as country heads to polls

MWC 2016 LIVE: Verizon boasts momentum for IoT platform

How will EU look after French, Dutch and German Elections and what will be the implications for Youth Entrepreneurship?

Elections in Britain may reserve a surprise for May’s Tories

At last Germany to negotiate the costs for a really cohesive Eurozone

Why the Greeks forgave Tsipras’ pirouettes around austerity and voted again for SYRIZA

Cryptocurrency mining could become the new face of energy storage. Here’s how

NEC @ MWC14: “Smart cities” hold the key to enhancing citizens’ lives and cutting costs

The developing countries keep the world going

EU: Divided they stand on immigration and Trump hurricanes

“We always honor our words, and in that respect we expect our partners to honor their words as well”, China’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi highlights live from Brussels

Armed insurgency in north-east Nigeria ‘has created a humanitarian tragedy’

EU Parliament: Deposit guarantee and trading platform transparency sought

This AI outperformed 20 corporate lawyers at legal work

G20 starts to tackle inequality

Batteries included: how better storage can transform renewable energy

Accountability for atrocities in Myanmar ‘cannot be expected’ within its borders – UN investigator

Conflicting statistics and bad banks haunt the Eurozone

Harnessing the power of nature in the fight against climate change

Economic recovery won’t tackle youth unemployment problem

MEPs back plans to boost joint assessment of medicines

Mali: Presidential elections critical to consolidate democracy, says UN peacekeeping chief

Brexit: Is there anybody supporting a non-violent separation?

Trump to subject the Fed, challenge the ECB and make Wall St. bankers even richer

Trump and Brexit: After the social whys the political whereto

Mali not fulfilling its ‘sovereign role’ in protecting its people: UN human rights expert

Increasingly under attack, women human rights defenders need better back up

New phenomena in the EU labour market

Assembly of European Regions @ European Business Summit 2014: The European regions on the path to recovery

Some Prevailing Arguments and Perceptions over the South China Sea Issue Are Simply Wrong

Digital business is Europe’s best hope to get back to growth

The Tears of lovely Memories

A new arrangement between Eurozone’s haves and have-nots

Eurozone’s north-south growth gap to become structural

EU Emissions Trading System does not hurt firms’ profitability

The increasing drug prices in Europe

Security Council downsizes AU-UN mission in Darfur, eying eventual exit

Biggest London City Banks ready to move core European operations to Frankfurt or Dublin?

How the EU crisis hit countries saved the German and French mega-banks from bankruptcy and still pay the costs

‘Global sisterhood’ tells perpetrators ‘time is up’ for pandemic of violence

May a parody constitute a copyright infringement? European Court of Justice to give the answer

Everything you need to know about water

Let the Italians have it their way, it may be good for all Eurozone

MEPs commend Ukraine‘s reform efforts and denounce Russian aggression

Korea must enhance detection and reinforce sanctions to boost foreign bribery enforcement

UN rights chief calls for release of hundreds abducted and abused in South Sudan

Ercom, cutting-edge Telco solutions from Europe

What do the economic woes of Turkey, Argentina and Indonesia have in common?

EU to negotiate an FTA with Japan

Governments and non-state actors need to take urgent action to meet Paris Agreement goals

An ECB banker wants to change the European social model

Commission tries to solidify the EU statistical system

Could robot leaders do better than our current politicians?

Every bite of burger boosts harmful greenhouse gases: UN Environment Agency

Russia and the West to partition Ukraine?

A Sting Exclusive: “Junior Enterprises themselves carry out projects focusing on the environment”, JADE President Daniela Runchi highlights from Brussels

A machine din

EU prepares a banking union amidst financial ruins

More Stings?

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