This year’s World Mental Health Day theme is ‘Mental health is a universal human right’. In the UK the demand for mental health support continues to rise with nearly a quarter of patients waiting more than 12 weeks to commence treatment . Leveraging digital services is crucial to enhancing accessibility, efficiency, and effectiveness for mental healthcare in the UK. By exploring the advantages and drawbacks of digital services in mental health, light can be shed on the evolving landscape of mental healthcare and how the integration of digital services might impact access within the UK.
In September 2023, NHS Confederation published the report Maximising the potential of digital in mental health, highlighting that at this moment in time “to do nothing is not an option”, and there is a significant opportunity to improve mental health care across the country. Providing digital solutions vastly increases accessibility to services, offering a lifeline to individuals in more remote or underserved areas, and providing support that may not have been available otherwise. Furthermore, it allows everyone to access care without the logistical challenges sometimes associated with traditional in-person care such as a lack of time, interference with other activities or transportation . This enables patients to access resources, therapy, and support groups at their own convenience around the clock. In addition, many digital mental health services are more cost-effective than traditional therapy. For example, in York University, internet delivered CBT is proving more cost-effective whilst delivering similar clinical outcomes .
Outside of the direct increases to access, proper usage of digital services can provide mental health patients with a level of anonymity, which can play a role in addressing the stigma associated with seeking mental health support. Social media is another important outlet for mental health patients, since January 1st 2023, “mental health” has been mentioned 2.18 million times on social media. While there can be pitfalls to social media, it is also full of high quality information from reliable influencers, some of whom have been mapped in the MHP Health Leading Health Influencers report.
However, the positive impacts may come with potential drawbacks. Socioeconomic disparities may be exacerbated through implementation, as not everyone has the necessary technology or internet connectivity to access digital mental health services. MHP Health held an event that touched on these themes through the provision of equitable healthcare for women with an accompanying report and video coming soon. With the use of any data sharing tools, privacy breaches are of concern and may deter potential service users due to previous, high profile security breaches within the NHS. Finally, an overreliance on digital services may discourage some individuals from seeking in-person help, which could potentially delay access to more intensive treatments where necessary.
Digital services have the potential to revolutionise mental healthcare within the NHS. Embracing their use can lead to greatly improved accessibility, efficiency, and quality of mental health care services. As digital solutions continue to evolve, they offer promising avenues for meeting the growing demand for mental health support in the UK. Nevertheless, there are important concerns regarding privacy, personalisation, the digital divide, amongst others. Striking the balance between digital and in-person mental health care is vital to ensuringe that individuals receive appropriate, effective, and personalised support. As the field continues to evolve, it is essential to consider both the promise and limitations of digital services in enhancing mental health care. The MHP Health team work with clients to navigate this dynamic landscape, leveraging the potential of digital and social media in health.
By Neil Moscovici