Digital Empowers: The Digital Mental Health Evolution

January 31, 2020

Digital Empowers, a national campaign led in partnership between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and Tata Consultancy Services, celebrates the crucial role technology plays in improving our world.This Digital Empowers Spotlight features a deep-dive into digital mental health and a unique opportunity for scalable and accessible digital approaches to mental health treatment and support.
One of the major trends this past year was a renewed focus on personal well-being and digital mental health. I, like so many others, splurged on new gadgets desing ed to support better sleep, relaxation, concentration, and meditation—making digital health products and services commonplace within households and on mobile devices. The year 2019 will perhaps be most recognized for the growth of digital mental health and its mark as a permanent fixture in society.

What is it about technology that has accelerated the growth of the digital mental health marketplace and our adoption of services? 

 

SPOTLIGHT: INNOVATIONS IN DIGITAL MENTAL HEALTH TECHNOLOGIES AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP

From its origins in the 1950s, there have been fundamental advancements in how technology has been used to address mental health. This evolution, accelerated by the proliferation of the internet and emerging technologies, created a market for digital mental health products and services.

The medical community’s adoption of e-health and telemedicine profoundly impact the investment in personalized, on-demand care. But, perhaps the most important factor to the growth of digital mental health marketplace can be attributed to abundance of, access to, and dependence on our personal technology devices.

The growth of the digital mental health marketplace and our adoption of its services is in part clinical—thanks to the medical, engineering, and research communities—and in part societal, driven by the online behavior and media absorption habits of a new generation of adults who are normalizing conversations about mental health.

Over the past two decades, people have turned to the web to seek medical care and emotional support through forums on every social platform. As a result, the perception of mental health and personal wellness has made a dramatic shift for the better—skyrocketing the demand for treatment and therapy.

From the clinical perspective, rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI), data science, and smart devices yield groundbreaking insights, enable early detection, monitor out-patient mood and behavior, and prescribe the best treatment options—all with greater objectivity, precision, and accuracy.

As it relates to psychiatric treatment, AI and machine learning (ML) algorithms have led to unprecedented breakthroughs in speech analysis. What we say and how we say it are impacted by various factors, including cognitive ability, emotional state, motor skills, fatigue, and social context—all of which factors yield massive amounts of data and the ability to collect, analyze, and detect warning signs for anxiety and depression. These technologies can also conduct speech analysis on online communication. For example, the National Institute of Mental Health and National Eating Disorders Association are piloting an online chatbot to provide treatment and support for teens and adults with eating disorders (ED). AI and ML algorithms applied to user data and engagement not only simulate human conversation drives conversation but do so in a way that personalizes care and provides appropriate emotional support.

Patients who may be at-risk or have complex medical regimens require careful monitoring. To do so, doctors are leveraging AI-enabled facial recognition technology and AI and their patient’s smartphones to identify that the correct individual is taking the medication as prescribed, or alternatively, prescribing smart-medication. Embedded with ingestible AI-sensors, these pills will transmit data about the patient’s vitals directly to their doctors, so that they may track their patients’ progress remotely.

Medical innovation aside, access to quality mental health care, whether in-person or remote, a challenge. According to a 2018 report, there are about 30,451 practicing psychiatrists in the U.S.—which is about 9 psychiatrists per 100,000 people on average.

Seeing this gap—entrepreneurs stepped in to create the digital healthcare marketplace. Data scientists, software developers, innovators, and clinicians combined their expertise and formed new business models, yielding an array of direct-to-consumer cloud-based services and connected technologies. Meeting patients, tech users, and consumers where they are—literally and figuratively—their smart phone apps, computers, video game consoles, etc. became platforms to overcome barriers to care.

Entrepreneurs have fundamentally changed digital mental health through on-demand “wrap around” support services, such as life coaching, peer support, meditation and stress relief, all of which platforms offer varying levels of personal comfort, commitment, and clinical oversight.
Eighty-one percent of adults in the U.S. own a smartphone, so it may be no surprise that there are more than 10,000 cloud-based mental health apps available for immediate download today that offer services ranging from therapy and addiction management to medication monitoring. In addition to software applications, the delivery of mental health services spans platforms and devices, some of which include text messaging, chatbots, social robots, wearable sensors, computer and video games, and virtual and augmented reality.

TalkSpace and Headspace are among the most well-known platforms for mental and emotional wellbeing. Within seconds, users can chat live with a therapist or coach via text or video. Mobile mental health services can be simple yet effective, as smartphones offer an opportunity to learn and practice skills, such as stress management and mindfulness, without direct clinical oversight. For example, the mobile app, SuperBetter, uses gamification to help its users build skills to manage anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder; whereas, Octave focuses on support groups and safe, confidential, and inviting forums for discussion on a variety of mental health and personal wellness issues.

Other companies like BehaviorMe and TRIPP are developing digital experiences to impact mood and mindfulness by exposing users to situations that help them better understand external stimuli and practice their response before experiencing them in real-life.

There are still many who prefer or need to in-person mental healthcare. Navigating the healthcare system can be a daunting feat when one is in need of care. Seeing these barriers, entrepreneurs expanded the familiar, digital mental health marketplace and created new tools, simplifying new-patients’ ability to find the right, quality provider. Uniquely, ZenCare’s search optimization platform first vets providers’ qualifications and curates provider profiles and includes brief video interviews and professional headshots to help prospective patients get a better feel for who that therapist is as an individual. To assist providers, Quartet has built a virtual platform specifically designed for primary care providers to navigate the market and connect their patients with appropriate mental health specialists—thereby creating the potential for seamless referrals, data sharing between doctors, and collaborative care. Not only does this model help rural patients with limited access to care, but also helps alleviate the shortage of mental healthcare providers.

The innovations and companies described above are just a fraction of the mental health and personal wellness solutions available today, but each provides broad implications for the spectrum of scientific discoveries and new opportunities for individuals seeking care yet to come.

CAMPAIGN UPDATES AND EVENTS

  • The Digital Empowers Campaign travels to Nashville, TN for its fourth regional forum in partnership with the Nashville Healthcare Council. Agenda and registration coming soon—stay tuned!
  • Coming up: In honor of International Women’s Day, next month’s newsletter will feature women-founders, innovative partnerships, and products closing gender gaps and promoting equality, inclusion and empowerment. Do you have a story to share? Contact ammiller@uschamber.com to learn more.

ON THE DIGITAL EMPOWERS RADAR

  • Henry Health: The factors that cause or exacerbate mental illness are often found in higher numbers among males in the Black community as compared to the general population. To tackle this problem, Washington, D.C. start-up, Henry Health, developed a unique digital platform to help black men manage their stress and mental health needs by providing self-care resources and culturally sensitive therapeutic support.
  • Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis. Text 741741 from anywhere in the U.S. to text with a trained Crisis Counselor. Crisis Text Line (CTL) volunteers and counselors have over 100 million messages processed to date to support people in crisis. Learn more about mental health, tech, and data by visiting the CTL blog.

TAKE A DEEPER DIVE: ECOSYSTEM ACTIVITY IN DIGITAL MENTAL HEALTH

Want to learn more on the latest tech-for-good trends, events, and best practices? Please contact Alexa Miller or visit Digital Empowers online at us.digitalempowers.org.