Discussions around mental health have never been more important or visible.
People are fatigued after a tumultuous two years marked by a global epidemic, rising consumer expenses, and a volatile global economic climate.
However, even before the Covid-19 coronavirus epidemic, societal mental health was suffering. Increasing rates of burnout among professionals increased dissatisfaction with work-life balance, and skyrocketing rates of depression and suicide—all key components contributing to mental health—have been documented by statistic after statistic.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that the prevalence of mental health concerns has increased dramatically over the last three decades, services to meet these needs have not been able to keep up.
One of the main causes for this has been a scarcity of qualified specialists, limiting access to those who most need it.
Digital Health and Telehealth
Digital health and telehealth services, for example, are being hailed as the newest ways to improve mental health access.
“Telebehavioral health can break down boundaries and offer more privacy than face-to-face mental health therapy,” according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Other advantages include connecting patients and providers to a larger network regardless of location; easier, more convenient access to experts and specialty therapies; and more.
Patients and physicians will have more opportunities to connect with those who speak the same language or have a comparable cultural background.
Patients who are hesitant to seek in-person mental health care but are comfortable with telemedicine will have more confidence.”
Industry behemoths have realized the derived value of mental health technology and have been pouring billions of dollars into it.
Take, for example, the popular meditation app Headspace, which recently announced a merger with on-demand mental health service provider Ginger, resulting in total worth of over $3 billion.
Calm, asleep, and meditation software, reported a $2 billion valuation late last year, backed by notable industry venture funds.
Carbon Health, a virtual care program that offers on-demand remote or virtual mental health consultations, is garnering a lot of popularity.
The company Carbon Health was recently valued at over $3 billion.
Is there are problem with taking mental health online?
However, there are certain issues and objections to the digital health solution.
For one thing, greater screen time has been shown to feed mental health crises in certain ways over the past three decades—whether it’s due to a detachment from reality, less real-life social engagement, or virtual bullying—technology hasn’t always had the finest track record.
Furthermore, just because there are a plethora of apps and digital solutions accessible to address mental health inequities does not mean that those who need them the most have access to them.
Mental health treatments are particularly scarce in underprivileged populations, both in terms of socioeconomic status and geographic location (e.g. rural areas).
These are frequently the same demographics that lack access to broadband or high-speed internet, making the expansion of internet-based mental health applications meaningless.
These issues, however, are not insurmountable.
Some of the world’s brightest minds are working on solutions to these problems, both in terms of making the online environment more pleasant and safe, as well as making the internet and digital technologies more accessible.
In particular, internet infrastructure in the United States lags considerably behind that of other countries, and it is one of the major bottlenecks in improving access to digital care in rural areas.
Policy experts and government officials, on the other hand, are beginning to recognize the need for reform in this area.
Legislators are taking notice, especially after the Covid-19 outbreak forced so many people into home isolation and fuelled a “work from home” movement.
The latest initiative is a part of the Biden administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which aims to “deliver $65 billion to help ensure that every American has access to reliable high-speed internet through a historic investment in broadband infrastructure deployment. The legislation will also help lower prices for internet service and help close the digital divide so that more Americans can afford internet access.”
Indeed, there are a slew of factors to consider when it comes to dealing with the global mental health pandemic.
Access to care is at the forefront of these concerns, particularly as communities seek more skilled personnel to assist those who are most in need.
Although technology innovation is a hopeful step toward improving access, there is still a lot of work to be done.