What is Digital Mental Health?

We're checking out some of the ways that charities, startups and public health providers can use technology to increase their engagement with mental health rehabilitation programmes.

Published by Hamish Kerry

In late 2019 we heard from Neil Bestford, Co-Founder of Purpose Made and People and Culture Strategist at Authentic about his experiences with overcoming burnout. Since then, the landscape of work based mental health recognition has changed dramatically, the COVID-19 pandemic spurring huge shifts in how and where employees work, and how they manage work life balance. Furloughed workers were also hit hard by increased opinions of job and financial insecurity, the The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) noting that by June 2020, 60% of survey respondents enrolled in furlough didn’t know if there job was secure upon the lifting of the scheme.

This year, for-profit scientific open access publisher, BioMed Central, found that 30% of the 2118 German and Swiss workers surveyed had seen some level of deterioration in their personal and professional lives as a result of the pandemic. Living in a single household, reduction in leisure time, and changes in quantity of caring duties (i.e., increase or decrease) were strongly associated with the negative impact.

So, how can charities, startups and healthcare providers make use of technology, and it’s reach to address mental health digitally?

What is digital mental health?

To start off, let’s look at exactly what we mean by digital mental health. Digital health (also known as e-health) is a broad term that encompasses the use of technology for digital record keeping, online booking systems, online repeat prescriptions, and some more inventive applications of technology for direct treatment. Healthcare services are beginning to use technology to help monitor health and prevent and treat mental health problems as the internet, online spaces, and smartphone apps have grown in popularity.

There are many options for categories of services that can be offered by local charities, organisations and at government level to ensure access is available to a varied range of users.

Digital Information

A 2012 study into the search engine use for information found that over 90% of individuals with internet access use search engines to find information prior to engaging with a specialist/organisation/business in the relevant field, demonstrating that the vast majority of us rely on online sources to aid our decision-making. Young adults aged 18 to 29 who looked up health information online did so for three reasons: 33% wanted to learn more about mental health issues, 38% wanted to learn more about prescription or over-the-counter drugs, and 34% wanted to learn more about alternative treatments or medicines.

Furthermore, persons with a mental health diagnosis have been found to use the internet to learn more about their diagnosis, treatment options, and prescription side effects. Given the growing demand for online health resources, it is critical for those who support vulnerable people to ensure that the quality of online services is maintained.

Digital Self Help

Many people choose online self-help tools because they may be used in the privacy of their own homes, on their own time and pace, and there is no waiting list. In the United Kingdom, GPs may be able to prescribe online self-help tools or refer patients to local charity with sufficient resources. It is therefore essential that mental health charities are exploring to the fullest extent how they adapt, present and deliver their digital strategies in order to have their services reach patients. This might include using online self-management guidelines, message boards, and online programmes for direct assistance, to give patients an opportunity to better understand their mental health.


E-therapies are interactive interventions delivered over the internet or mobile devices for the prevention and treatment of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. The most popular type of e-therapy is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is usually done over a period of weeks or months. Users are often required to complete modules or exercises while receiving feedback on their progress. Typically, these sessions are held via messaging, or audio/video calling platforms, but can also take place in apps with varied content types. Some of the most successful mental health management apps available today feature the ability to contact a therapist or doctor, they instead rely on well put together content and good UX principles to guide users through their treatment.

Blended care

Face-to-face treatment is combined with online sessions in blended care. Online therapy sessions with organised delivery and monitoring of core treatment material and activities, as well as extra face-to-face sessions, might be used. Therapists can provide individualised therapy during face-to-face sessions by responding in real time to the patient's requirements, concerns, or preferences.

In terms of mental health care and data collecting, technology has ushered in a new era. Smartphones and tablets are providing new opportunities for the general public, clinicians, and researchers to get treatment, track progress, and learn more about mental health and how to improve it.

No matter the type of service you’re looking to offer, the benefits of having a myriad of options available to patients that fit with their lifestyles is important, accessibility is key when it comes to public services and their engagement rates.

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