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Bridging the gap: Surveying the digital frontiers of mental health

By Grace Horrocks, Account Executive, Publicis Resolute


I’ve always been interested in the potential for technology to make a difference in healthcare and earlier this month, my partner in crime/colleague, Charlotte and I had the opportunity to attend ‘Mental Health Question Time’ (#MHQT) at University College, London. The event was a free public discussion, looking to explore the gap between digital potential and the barriers to implementing effective digital mental health management.

The expert panel was chaired by Sonia Johnson, a highly regarded London-based psychiatrist. She was joined by a selection of other psychiatrists, doctors and technophiles: Victoria Betton, Mark Brown, Andres Fonseca, Lisa Marzano, Elizabeth Murray, Puffin O’Hanlon and Geraldine Strathdee.

The talk really brought to light the fact that, in a world where digital communication is an essential part of our lives, it seems incomprehensible that it doesn’t play a prominent role in healthcare.

So why is this?

Of course, there are many contributing factors in this debate; the NHS is facing the constant threat of cyber-attacks, the need to protect patients’ data, the costs associated with such maintenance and security measures, to name just a few. Other barriers include the cost of building the necessary systems, putting training in place and the difficulty in standardising digital offerings. It seems there’s also a belief among some patients and HCPs that technological solutions are a “second best” approach to healthcare.

Though the panel was careful to address all these important challenges, the talk was far from doom and gloom! The panel discussion covered all sorts of aspects of digital in healthcare – from self-help mobile apps to wearables and Skype appointments with HCPs – and the positive impact that these solutions could have on the NHS and those suffering from mental health disorders.

Once the debate had drawn to a close, both Charlotte and I agreed that the panel presented a superb, engaging and unbiased discussion around digital mental health. They challenged many of our prior skepticisms regarding what we believed could be seen as a sterile, cold option compared to true human contact when treating mental health. The fresh perspectives posed some valuable food for thought which left us asking – why should we be afraid of digitising mental health when it offers so many new frontiers to be explored?

Drawing the night to a close, we especially enjoyed Mark Brown’s final comments. He summarised the need for a more forward-thinking NHS; “Is it time we stopped asking what digital is doing to our mental health and start asking what digital can do for our mental health?”

We think he’s right!


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