Digital ‘might be counter-intuitive’ for mental health

mental health, apps
“There is potential but we are at a stage where we need to take the challenge about public harm a bit more seriously,” Julia Manning, Chief Executive of 2020 Health, told delegates at the Health Insights event in Birmingham yesterday

Experts worry that lack of regulation around certain digital health platforms might be ‘counter-intuitive’

[Birmingham, UK] Julia Manning, Chief Executive of 2020 Health, expressed concerns yesterday at the Health Insights event in Birmingham that digital means might actually be counter-intuitive for mental health.

Manning explained that there is a ‘very strong rationale’ for using online platforms as an enabler of services in this field, however, she asked delegates: “Can digital really do what we want it to do?”

There are ‘no quick fixes’, she added, able to solve the complex issues of mental health; in spite of being ‘dynamic and provocative’, the medium is thought to be ‘too trivial’, especially given that a wide range of apps have been developed without offering a basis of clinical evidence showing their use would improve outcomes.

However, a series of digital platforms are starting to tackle the issue of mental health, along with wearables, VR, AI devices or even digital phenotyping. Manning believes AI could be used in areas where there is no alternative for getting support, talking about a psychotherapy chatbot that had been deployed in Syria and Lebanon for refugees, called X2AI.

Absence of regulation posing further barriers

Furthermore, Manning emphasised that the lack of standards intensifies problems around finding viable help through digital means, despite the fact the absence of regulation is often explained as a reason for not stifling innovation.

“As long as a device or a programme doesn’t call itself treatment, it can be put out there without any evidence,” she added.

Manning gave ORCHA UK as an example of an organisation that carries out ‘strong’ assessments of health apps. In October, Liz Ashall-Payne, Co-founder of ORCHA, told BJ-HC there were approximately 12,000 mental health apps on the market, around 5,000 focusing on depression and 3,000 on anxiety, although there were other areas where only one or two could be found.

“There is potential but we are at a stage where we need to take the challenge about public harm a bit more seriously,” Manning concluded.