Over the last few years, digital mental health services have seen a steady rise. The pandemic in particular thrust space forward significantly. By definition, digital mental health is understood as any application of digital health technology for mental health assessment, support, prevention, and treatment (Wies, Landers & Ienca, 2021). This includes teletherapy, video conferencing, and mobile applications that provide support and assistance for mental health.
The space of digital mental health solutions has always been one possibility, growing with technological progress and adapting to the needs of society. The most remarkable shift in the digital mental health space came with access to personal technological devices. With the ubiquity of personal devices and the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), mental health apps have come to the fore and continue to rise. The types of mental health apps vary, with some focusing on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), others allowing individuals to connect with professionals virtually, and some providing AI-supported tools to manage emotional distress.
During the pandemic in particular, there was an increased reliance on these services for mental and emotional health support. Evidence suggests that the digital mental health solutions space boomed during the pandemic and continues to do so, accelerating in its user base and technological developments. It is important to understand this growth, given the role these services play in the mental health service landscape today. Here are some reasons why digital mental health solutions are booming right now:
- Growing mental health crisis:
Across the globe, the pandemic significantly accentuated mental health concerns. In fact, WHO (2022) recently published data indicating a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide, due to several pandemic-related factors like social isolation, loneliness, fear of infection, grief and bereavement, and financial worries. There was clearly a growing mental health crisis across countries at that moment.
At the same time, the pandemic disrupted the delivery of traditional therapeutic treatment in various settings such as workplaces, schools, and private practice. This disruption, coupled with the pressing need for additional mental health services, left individuals grappling with emotional distress and little to no professional mental health support.
It was digital mental health solutions that made it possible to access care – across countries, therapists shifted to teletherapy and individuals actively sought virtual mental health services. In the absence of access to traditional in-person therapy, digital mental health companies could offer care and support at a critical and pressing time, attending to the treatment gap. This significantly increased the number of people accessing digital mental health care.
Financial costs, geographical location, social class, and stigma around mental health are often barriers to seeking in-person mental health services. Digital mental health provides an opportunity to improve access to mental health care by navigating through some of these obstacles, by bringing quality mental health services to the palm of one’s hands, often in a more cost-effective manner. “With high treatment cost and limited access to qualified therapists, employers, healthcare providers, and insurers are seeking ways to help people manage their mental health and well-being through clinically proven, cost-effective, and scalable solutions…” pointed out Mr. Ramakant Vempati, co-founder of Wysa, an AI-enabled digital mental health company. Digital mental health offers exactly that.
Recent research suggests that digital mental health does in fact already improve and holds the possibility of further improving access to mental health services across ethnical and racial minorities, individuals situated in rural areas, individuals experiencing homelessness, and individuals belonging to the LGBTQ+ community. This is because of several reasons such as anonymity, cost-effective care, and remote access.
With these benefits, organizations are also offering corporate counseling through mobile apps given their improved accessibility. Corporate wellness companies are now shifting to virtual platforms, acknowledging the need for accessible emotional support and recognizing its benefits.
Overall, digital mental health holds the potential to alleviate the mental health disparity across society, catering to a larger population than traditional in-person therapy can.
Digital mental health services that are non-clinician based, such as AI-powered chatbots, videos, and written content, and interactive virtual exercises are available to individuals at any time of the day, allowing them to access this support around the clock. Further, app-based support means that individuals can download these mental health services on their phones at any time, without the deterrent of wait time often involved in seeking in-person care which negatively impacts health outcomes. Digital mental health solutions then become the preferred alternative.
- Customized Support
Another advantage of digital mental health that contributed to its recent rise is its ability to provide customized support to its users. This is particularly relevant for corporate counseling wherein, instead of large-scale organizational programs, corporate wellness companies are offering tools that can be customized to personal needs and goals.
The reason digital mental health solutions continue to grow is because of their effectiveness with treatment outcomes. Research suggests that mobile health apps for the management of mental health were effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, along with reducing suicidal ideations. Further, digital mental health services were also capable of building a quality therapeutic alliances between professionals and users, contributing to improvements in subjective well-being. The consistent evidence in favor of its effectiveness has contributed significantly to its growth.
Digital mental health is a new, flourishing space with immense potential to reach individuals and bridge the mental health disparity. The pandemic brought it to the spotlight, opening possibilities for us to explore and harness. In its future growth, it would be important for digital mental health solution companies to also pay attention to important considerations around data protection and clinical safety. The appropriate use of digital tools and virtual care can go a long way toward improving the mental health service provision landscape.
Wysa is one such prominent digital mental health company dedicated to providing quality and ethical mental health services. Wysa equips its users with effective digital tools along with connecting them with trained professionals to navigate through their mental health journeys.
You can check out the services provided by Wysa by visiting us here.