Along with other experts in the field I was filmed recently for a programme on Sky about technology and mental health. The debate was an interesting one: there was an acceptance that digital should have a role to play in supporting people with mental health issues, but there were clear reservations.
This is a fairly common reaction and I can see why people might feel nervous about recommending technology to help someone’s emotional wellbeing.
It’s important to remember here that technology is a means and not an end. It simply breaks down some of the barriers in the way of people accessing support.
It’s also important to remember that digital will never replace face-to-face services. I’ve always argued that online counselling has a big role in complementing in-person therapy and as part of a joined up service, connected to the wider health and social care system.
Similarly with apps, while they may be used exclusively, they also play an important preventative and complementary role to mental health services. The same can be said of online counselling. As an example, we have helped young people who have started their therapy with us online, which has given them the confidence and knowledge to then seek help through their GP. We have worked with those on waiting lists and those who need support between appointments.
This works because often face-to-face services generally operate during traditional working hours and have fixed appointment times. Technology, however, increases the likelihood that people get help when they need it.
Essentially, all the help we can offer, with as many different approaches and points of access as possible, is all to the good.
The important caveat here when we’re talking about apps is that they are properly reviewed and accredited. Many aren’t. I agree with my fellow experts on the Sky panel (Barney Cullum, co-editor of Mental Health Today magazine, Simon Leigh, director of Nexus Clinical Analytics and Dr Aaron Balick, clinical psychotherapist) that apps need the correct level of clinical involvement and independent scrutiny so that we know they’re offering the right support and that they are safe.
Ultimately, it’s clear to me that we will never meet the demand for mental health support without digital services which can scale. With rising demand, there simply is not enough resource to make it a reality.
Elaine Bousfield, founder and chair, XenZone