Over the past year, mental health awareness has become much more prevalent. Significant social change and mass isolation has impacted the state of the world’s mental health, requiring new ways to help look after ourselves. So this past Mental Health Awareness Month, we took time to reflect on a few positive changes the digital world is having on mental health and wellbeing. We hope to inspire additional steps our community can take to contribute and engage with the discussion.
Staying digitally connected in the midst of a pandemic means more than simply being able to speak to loved ones via video call - it means being able to stay easily connected to resources that can offer help.
With 4.7 billion people globally accessing the internet every day, 59.5% of the world’s population has access to online mental health resources. This means access not only to the evolving discussion, scientific studies and broader supportive communities, but access to new online and blended therapy.
Online therapy is a much more cost effective and accessible approach to mental wellness care. The process to seek out such care has been simplified with more custom choices, many now unhindered by location constraints and procedural requirements of the past. Indeed, online self-help information has offered solace to those who may be experiencing mental health difficulties for the first time.
This recent surge in demand for information and assistance in understanding mental health has contributed to a society-wide effort to achieve better awareness; manifesting empathy in a much more connected population that now understands one another’s struggles.
It has recently been widely acknowledged that a lack of adequate mental health care massively decreases the efficiency of a country’s health system. Given this recognition, policies such as the eMen project have been implemented to transform the state of mental health care in health care systems across the world.
The commitment to expanding the way the digital world can impact mental health care is strong; with officials hoping to leverage the average use of e-mental health products to 15% - an increase of 7% across Europe. So far, this project has seen the development of 7 e-mental health products - all of which have now been successfully piloted. Among these include ‘EMDapp’ - ‘game therapy’ for people suffering with PTSD, and ‘Moodbuster’ - an online treatment platform for people with depression.
This project also has much wider implications - eMen will directly contribute to Europe’s economic performance and innovation capacity. By utilizing technology in this mindful way, healthcare costs will also be reduced, access to prevention and treatment will improve, and there will be an increased growth of eHealth SMEs.
Virtual Reality (VR) is a point of interest in the future of digitizing mental health care. There has already been evidence of this, for example in a care home in Wales, UK where residents were introduced to technology for the first time. Videos of Tom Jones on Youtube were said to be the favorite, but allowing residents to ‘travel’ to sentimental places using VR headsets was a close second. The home introduced iPads, Amazon Echo Dots and VR headsets two years ago, and have since reported a fall in ambulance calls by 29%, with the need for antipsychotic drugs almost disappearing.
Artificial Intelligence is also a phenomenon that is finding its use within mental health treatment. Online therapy apps and websites have begun using AI ‘therapy bots’ that can be particularly useful for children that are used to face-to-face treatment, and personalized avatars that can speak the words that a patient types out has made seeking help a much smaller feat for those that have previously not felt confident enough.
Humanity is taking steps to better understand, care for and improve mental wellness with digital tools playing a key role. So what does this mean for us? As content creators, we have the power to send shockwaves of information through the digital sphere. And now more than ever it is easier to create and share content with global audiences. So as our influence increases, we have great opportunities to positively contribute to the discussion.
Steps can always be made through generating conscientious and positive content, fostering inclusiveness in our communities, advocacy work of our network personalities, social outreach of popular athletes, policy innovation in our organizations and more. So many organizations have already taken these steps but it all starts with an open dialogue between one another. So perhaps the most important thing is to help destigmatize mental health for ourselves and our communities, a concept of wellness that was considered taboo in the not so distant past.