A new digital era for mental health

Matteo Farinella

Illustration by Matteo Farinella

It has long been recognised that mental health is neglected by healthcare systems across the world. Any yet the burden of disease is as significant as any. The WHO predicts that by 2030 depression will be the leading cause of the global burden of disease, outstripping ischaemic heart disease.

Digital technology can improve psychiatric services along the whole pathway, from diagnosis and treatment, through to population health.

Cambridge cognition, leading developers of neuropsychological tests for clinical practice and academia, are set to trial their new service the Brain Health Centre in 2015. The software uses clinically validated memory tests in combination with algorithms designed by IXICO that analyse MRI brain scans. The aim is to accelerate the process of diagnosing dementia.

Meanwhile in Poland, Harimata have harnessed the power of artificial intelligence to improve diagnoses in autism. A child plays a game on a tablet and the app gathers thousands of data points from the sensors, such as the gyroscope and accelerometer. Using machine learning, Harimata can cluster different behavioural patterns and compare between children with and without autism. They have discovered new behavioural markers and are now using the app as a diagnostic test.

But diagnoses such as these are not just in the clinic: Ginger.io does a similar thing using patterns in the data collected passively on your smartphone to predict a decline in mental health and alert service providers.

Moving along the care pathway, companies such as Sleepio, and Headspace have designed engaging, evidence based software for behaviour change.  Sleepio uses an avatar called ‘The Prof’ to deliver cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia via an app, and Headspace provides guided meditation at the touch of a button. As well as automated solutions, technology is connecting practitioners at scale: Ieso Digital Health provide online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with registered psychologists and are now one of the leading providers of telepsychology for the NHS. The implications of these solutions huge: we can now deliver therapy at scale, reduce cost and provide support 24/7.

Emerging markets are set to benefit from digital therapeutics as well, Second Chance Africa is using an app to train Community Health workers to give psychological treatment to Liberians traumatised after the Ebola epidemic.

Whats next? Dr Fjola Helgadottir is a clinical psychologist, founder of AI Therapy and argues that the next development will be the use of artificial intelligence in therapy. Despite recent news headlines artificial intelligence has not passed the famous Turing Test just yet, so an AI therapist is still somewhat on the horizon. At present AI Therapy provides online CBT for disorders such as social anxiety.  But it’s unlikely to be long.

Its exciting to see the strength of technology when creatively applied, and perhaps more excitingly it is putting control back into the hands of service users. Dr Lia Ali at South London and the Maudsley is a Psychiatrist and Clinical Lead for Digital Health Innovation. She’s giving service users access to all of their data online through myHealthlocker.

Next month, the Digital Health Forum is holding an evening debate on the implications of digital technology for mental health. Hear from Headspace, myHealthlocker and others at the evening on the 2nd July.

Digital Health and Mental Health Collide @ Digital Health Forum

The Digital Catapult
Thursday 2nd July
Book FREE tickets on Eventbrite

Join the Digital Health Forum at the Digital Catapult on the evening of the 2nd July to hear a panel of psychiatrists, academics and technology start ups discussing the digital disruption of mental health.

Keynote: Professor Chris Hollis from the NIHR MindTech Healthcare Technology Cooperative

Professor Hollis’ keynote will be followed by short presentations and a panel from leading innovators in business, clinical practice and academia.

  • Dr Lia Ali, Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Lead for Digital Health Innovation at the Maudsley

  • Dr David Cox, Chief Medical Officer at Headspace

  • Dr Fjola Helgadottir, Senior Research Clinician at Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford and co-founder of AI Therapy

  • Mike Lewis, Chairman at Cambridge Cognition

The event will be followed by Digital Health Forum drinks and networking.

Digital Catapult
101 Euston Road