Using digital therapeutics to support better mental health
According to The World Health Organization, every person on the planet will experience some type of struggle with mental health issues. These can vary from stress, anxiety, and fear to more complex issues like bipolar disorder and PTSD. These issues, if left untreated can be costly, costing the global economy an estimated $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.[i]
But in the digital age, resources to support better mental health are more available than ever, and many can be accessed from a smartphone or digital platform. With advanced technology, connectivity to licensed mental health professionals, and 24/7 support, achieving better mental health is more accessible and affordable than ever before. New digital therapeutics are making mental health a priority for us all, with customized content and guided support toward a healthier tomorrow.
Stress happens to everyone but living with a chronic condition can bring its own amount of anxiety and uncertainty. According to Gallup research, nearly one-third of the world’s population reports feeling stressed and worried, and the pandemic has only served to exacerbate this[ii]. To help patients alleviate some of this stress, new digital health tools are guiding users to better connect with their mindfulness, identify early stress triggers, and incorporate daily tips to reduce anxiety.
Smartphone apps such as Headspace focuses on mindfulness, and helping users master daily meditation and control anxious thoughts to recalibrate the body’s responses to stress. Other apps connect to wearable devices to identify stressful periods and help manage physical symptoms associated with stress. Platforms such as Calm focus on deep breathing, realizing anxiety, and becoming centered in the moment.
The role of virtual reality has grown acceptance in mental health uses in the past few years. One company that is pioneering its uses is Ginger, an on-demand program that guides users in addressing mental health care needs such as mild depression or anxiety, through secure virtual care platforms. Patients can be escalated to a therapist or physician if they request it, or if the platform recognizes the need for escalation. Coaches focus on stress management, goal attainment, and recovering from loss.
By addressing less acute issues directly and triaging people to therapists or physicians as needed, these programs provide cost-effective support directly to patients in settings where they’re most comfortable. Other vendors take a similar, yet less advanced approach to mental health, including Spring Health, Lyra and Modern Health, to provide a continuum of care from low acuity needs to triaging users to more comprehensive care.
Understanding moods and emotions are critical to helping manage stress, and new digital tools are helping patients track the times and triggers to mood changes. There are numerous mobile apps that make mood-tracking even easier, offering interactive features, fun customization tools, and useful alerts. Many mood and emotion trackers can address everything from stress and low moods to symptoms of PTSD.
Trackers such as Daylio expands beyond mood tracking, allowing users to jot down a few thoughts or keep a detailed private journal. They can also log daily activities and measure how these activities affect their mood over time. MoodMission draws on published mental health research to assist people with anxiety and depression. Medisafe enables patients to track their moods in conjunction with medication use from day to day, as well as adding data about lifestyle and health. This additional insight can be helpful for physicians as they evaluate medical treatments for chronic conditions. Using advanced technology may be the first step toward better understanding their own mental health and starts a pathway to share with a trusted mental health professional.
Digital Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
More advanced mental health support has also expanded into the digital health territory using chatbots, video and written content, gamified user exercises to deliver cognitive behavioral therapy programs. These digital mental health services offer an easy entrance into mental health services, acting as an enhancement to clinician-based virtual care, allowing 24/7 access for those with less intensive needs.
During the early days of the pandemic, providers saw many patients looking for mental health support in virtual formats. These digital platforms can combine digital tools and virtual care to create a robust ecosystem for end-to-end patient care, including steering patients to in-person care when needed. The combination of tools provides the mental health care system with scalable solutions and increased flexibility while improving access and convenience for consumers. Because of these benefits, the many employer health plans now offer virtual and digital options for mental health care.
New digital solutions are presenting alternatives to help patients manage their mental health, using advanced therapeutic approaches to support mental health on a large scale. These digital tools are accessible at any time and from anywhere, providing help on demand without the long waits often needed for in-person therapy. As the stigma surrounding mental health continues to dissipate, new digital therapeutics are offering new hope in improving the holistic health of patients in many aspects of their lives.
[i] Mental health in the workplace, World Health Organization, who.int.
[ii] Gallup Global Emotions 2021 report. https://www.gallup.com/analytics/349280/gallup-global-emotions-report.aspx