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

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the European Sting Milestones

Featured Stings

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

Two women threaten to tear the world apart

The implications of Brexit on European business, youth entrepreneurship and junior enterprises.

Treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons marks first anniversary, but still lacks sufficient numbers to become law

Rising landmine blast toll in Afghanistan highlights long-term care needs of survivors

Giving humanitarian help to migrants should not be a crime, say MEPs

Jo Cox’s murderer believed the ‘leave’ campaign leaders that the ‘remain’ vote is treason

Brexit kick-off: a historic day for the EU anticlockwise

Will Merkel ever steer the EU migration Titanic and restore her power in Germany?

Why is the EU launching a doomed policy in stopping immigrant waves? What are the real targets?

Another 170 migrants disappear in shipwrecks, UN agency reiterates call for an end to Mediterranean tragedy

Satellites and data are going to help us phase out fossil fuels. Here’s how

How much is nature worth? $125 trillion, according to this report

Preparing medical students for new challenges in medical ethics

The EU Commission predicts a decimated growth in the next years

UN calls for funds to ease ‘deteriorating’ humanitarian situation in Gaza and West Bank

Imaginary Journeys Into Eternal China

For how long will terror and economic stagnation be clouding the European skies?

G20 LIVE: “United States and Turkey stand in solidarity with France and its people in handing the perpetrators of this crime and bringing them to justice”, US President Barack Obama underlines from G20 in Antalya Turkey

Trade in fake goods is now 3.3% of world trade and rising

Permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) on the table of NATO Defense Ministers amid US concerns

Brexit: Ensuring a smooth transition for car producers and safety on the roads

Wednesday’s Daily Brief: Sudan, Libya, Yemen updates, solutions for e-waste, flood response in Iran, online security for children

Chart of the day: This is how many animals we eat each year

‘I thought I’d never get out alive’ – the Muslim director who interviewed neo-Nazis

Nuclear test ban treaty critical to global collective security – UN chief

Doctors without borders

German egotistic inward turn to badly hurt Europe after Merkel’s exit

You’ve heard of 5G, but what about the quantum internet?

Marking Sir Brian Urquhart’s 100th birthday, UN honours life-long servant of ‘we the peoples’

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

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

Accelerating a more sustainable industrial revolution with digital manufacturing

Italy’s dilemma after Merkel-Hollande agreed loose banking union

These chefs are fighting hunger and poverty with gastronomy

Service and Sacrifice: Ugandan ‘Blue Helmets’ support UN efforts to bring peace to Somalia

World Health Organization calls crisis meeting over deadly Ebola outbreak in DR Congo

Somalia: UN mission head condemns deadly terrorist attacks in Mogadishu, Galkayo

Low quality healthcare is increasing the burden of illness and health costs globally

European Union: From financial consolidation to deeper political division

4 things to know about the state of conflict today

Social, cultural diversity ‘an enormous richness, not a threat’ Guterres declares calling on investment for a harmonious future

“Health and environment first of all”, EU says with forced optimism after 7th round of TTIP talks

MEPs approve EU’s spending in 2017

Myanmar: Conflict resolution at ‘total standstill’, military commanders must answer for crimes against humanity

5G will redefine entire business models. Here’s how

UN rights experts call on Russia to release Ukrainian film-maker whose life is in ‘imminent danger’

“No labels for entrepreneurs!”, a young business leader from Italy cries out

Is there a chance for the West to win the war on terror?

Soil pollution ‘jeopardizing’ life on Earth, UN agency warns on World Day

From UN Assembly podium, Central African Republic leader appeals for lifting arms embargo

A Young student assesses the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

UN chief calls for ‘solidarity, compassion and action’ on World Refugee Day

Batteries can power sustainable development. Here’s how

INTERVIEW: UN’s top official in North Korea foresees ‘surge’ in humanitarian aid

Monday’s Daily Brief: ‘Horror’ at Notre Dame fire disaster, Yemen still bleeding, measles now ‘global crisis’

‘Humiliation was the worst’; Holocaust survivor at UN, asks world to act with ‘empathy and compassion’

Population in crisis hit EU countries will suffer for decades

The Ecofin Council creates officially the clan of ‘undead’ banks

Yemen update: UNICEF chief condemns attack in Taiz that claims lives of seven children

Is Europe ready to cooperate with the rest of the world? Can Germany change its selfish policies?

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