Dr Zain Sikafi, CEO and co-founder of Mynurva, and a former GP, explains the role technology could have in supporting mental health, and examines potential influential innovations in the year ahead.
Only a week into the New Year, Prime Minister Theresa May’s 10-year NHS plan has been subject to much discussion. Some £2.3 billion of the £20 billion NHS funding is set to go towards improving mental health services; yet while the pledge to make mental health a focus is of course a welcoming announcement, there is a lot of ground to make up if mental health is ever to reach parity with physical health.
Luckily, tech is playing a leading role in bridging the gap, with many ambitious leaders in the healthcare space working to change the way we discuss and address mental health.
Overall, the global digital health market has been valued at a staggering $118 billion worldwide according to Statista, and is expected to reach $206 billion by 2020. With mobile and wireless technologies fuelling new innovations, mental health apps are rising in popularity.
Given this growing momentum, we’re sure to see the ongoing increase of new healthtech solutions in 2019 that will help tackle the stigma surrounding mental health and offer people the support that they need. So what innovations are likely to prove influential in the coming year?
Health secretary Matt Hancock’s 2019 Green Paper, “Prevention is better than cure,” gives a good indication of what technologies will play a leading role in the coming 12 months here in the UK.
Already we have seen the power of wearable technologies as a tool for monitoring physical health and identifying – and even preventing – long-term health problems. The Apple Watch, for instance, can detect heart irregularities with 97% accuracy, helping to identify preventable diseases in advance. Clearly, technologies have a vital role to play as a preventative tool, particularly when it comes to the identification of symptoms that could be attached to serious health conditions and diseases.
Meanwhile, mobile health apps have been instrumental to promoting a healthy lifestyle; but of course, this isn’t limited to physical wellbeing. The rise of self-monitoring apps has filtered through into the mental wellbeing space, and this has opened up avenues for people seeking information about the symptoms and causes of common mental health problems.
Offering early-stage intervention, applications like Unmind, for instance, assess a person’s mental health through questionnaires and mood diaries, and encourages them to perform activities that relieve stress and anxiety. The importance of addressing these symptoms before they build up and develop into more serious problems is evident, so digital innovations like these which encourage people to develop coping mechanisms are invaluable to preventing long-term mental health problems.
Tackling mental health symptoms
Meanwhile, technology is also being harnessed to offer a means of treating those suffering from symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, and promote positive wellbeing. And given the potential of cost-effective, digital solutions to open up access to support, healthtech leaders are instrumental for improving accessibility to healthcare for the greater UK population.
On the more ambitious end of the scale, innovations like MindWave Mobile 2 are demonstrating just how powerful a technology can be in addressing complicated mental health disorders. The NeuroSky technology used can detect and interpret brainwaves, and has even been used to develop a virtual reality (VR) experience to help treat OCD.
On a more accessible level, digital tools like online platforms are increasingly being used to provide help and support to people with mental health problems. Recently, an interactive, 24/7 portal called Good Thinking was launched in London to tackle the burden of mental ill-health – offering users self-assessment and providing them with advice of where to go for help. The benefits of websites such as these are undeniable, giving people the resources they need to learn about strategies for managing common mental health symptoms.
Live Video Counselling
Recently, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that smartphone consultations will replace most hospital and GP appointments under plans to make the NHS a “digital first” operation; a trend that has been heeded by mental health services and is likely to continue into 2019.
Forward-thinking solutions like video counselling have created a new model of mental health support, and given the pressure on GP and healthcare professionals, digital will be at the heart of the Government strategy to tackle the mental health crisis.
Two of the greatest challenges facing sufferers of mental ill health is the continued stigma surrounding the topic – preventing huge numbers of people from speaking out and seeking the help that they need– and the difficulty of getting an appointment with a mental health professional that can fit around a busy working schedule.
The rise of live video counselling services like Mynurva, however, now means that those suffering from mental health symptoms like stress, anxiety and depression have licensed therapists at their fingertips and can receive confidential support at any time – and place – that suits them. Crucially, these services remove the obstacles preventing people from speaking to a professional, be it time constraints or a fear of being stigmatised.
Healthtech is revolutionising how we address the growing problem of mental ill-health and encouraging people to make their wellbeing a priority. In the coming 12 months, we can expect digital innovation to continue to improve people’s access to healthcare services, particularly when it comes to mental health.