UK government weighs digital tools for mental health

By: Jonah Comstock | Feb 5, 2013        

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moodscopeA report from the London School of Economics and Political Science recently found that only about a quarter of people with depression or anxiety-related mental health problems in the UK receive treatment. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) sees potential in turning to mobile and digital health tools to solve that access problem and to cut costs, according to a new discussion paper recently published by the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network.

“We were trying to take a look at what are the opportunities that technology can give us to not only transform how we deliver services, but also to run them more efficiently,” Mental Health Network Acting Director Rebecca Cotton told MobiHealthNews. She said that the providers who are member organizations of the Mental Health Network have had a growing interest in mobile mental health technologies.

The paper outlines some of the kinds of mobile mental health tools available in England: mood trackers like Moodscope and Buddy; computerized cognitive behavioral therapy platforms like Beating the Blues and Living Life to the Full; telehealth services like Bosch’s Health Buddy; patient information portals like MyHealthLocker; and patient communities like PatientsLikeMe. It also mentions mental health social network/support structure Big White Wall, whose chief executive Jen Hyatt co-authored the paper.

But the study’s main emphasis is on the question of what role the NHS has going forward to give providers guidance on what digital tools are worthwhile and effective. The Mental Health Network is beginning a mapping project to look at what technology is already being used and how, to be followed by a strategic plan to develop a national framework for digital mental health. The organization has already received funding for the mapping project, which will also include looking at examples from other countries, Cotton said, such as Australia’s eHeadSpace project, a government run online and telephone service for youth mental health.

Some of the questions the Mental Health Network is asking are familiar to anyone following mobile health in the United States, where a recent report published in the Washington Post report drew attention to the number of questionable health apps on the market and the lack of oversight or regulation.

“How do we make sense of what is a rapidly evolving marketplace and make informed choices about which programs and applications to use?” the report asks. “How do we determine what ‘quality’ looks like?”