Is digital technology the solution to the mental health gap?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2022), Mental health problems have a significant impact on disease, premature death and disability worldwide.

If we look at the figures provided by the WHO, approximately 1 in 10 people in the world suffer from a mental health disorder; 1 in 4 families have a member with a mental health disorder, only 1% of healthcare professionals globally deal with mental health, and 76-85% of people with mental health disorders in countries or media with a low socio-economic level do not receive any type of treatment.

On the other hand, over the past ten years, access to new technologies and the Internet around the world has increased at the same time, costs have fallen considerably. Thus, the increasing accessibility of mobile devices such as smartphones has led to an increasing use of technology in our daily lives.

Digital Technology and the Mental Health Gap

Given the exponential development of digital technology, its growing availability and widespread accessibility, it should be noted that digital technology can be a key component in bridging the gaps in mental health, i.e. the gap between the resources available for mental health care and the resources really needed.

Technological solutions in mental health offer certain advantages. These include the immediacy of the ability for people (patients and professionals) to access effective tools from virtually anywhere.

Considering the costs, we also find that technology often offers cheaper and more affordable options than face-to-face care in mental health resources, from the disappearance of transport / transfer costs to professional consultation, to the possibility of accessing a digital resource which does not necessarily have to be therapy as such (i.e. mental health apps for performing breathing exercises, meditation techniques and mindfulness).

It is interesting to note at this point that it is currently estimated that There are between 10,000 and 20,000 mental health apps on the market (American Psychological Association APA, 2021).

Another interesting advantage that technological solutions bring us is that aimed at the mental health professional himself in terms of his training and professional enrichment, since he can access courses, conferences, seminars and other training and/or professional growth spaces in a much simpler and more efficient way compared to traditional face-to-face alternatives.

The case of the coronavirus crisis

A recent example where we were able to verify the contributions of digital technology to mental health is the COVID-19 pandemic. The health crisis has highlighted not only the importance of mental health, but also the limits of an overflowing healthcare system which does not meet the demand of the population.

It is in this critical situation that technology has played a leading role. They were particularly helpful virtual care solutionssuch as online psychotherapy, which provided a way to initiate or maintain psychological treatment.

Indeed, just as telework appeared in haste and has remained in some cases as a regular and not exceptional reality, digital resources in mental health could follow the same path and seem imminent to continue.

The disadvantages

However, despite all the advantages that we can find in this digital transformation of mental health care, many risks or disadvantages can arise and which therefore we must address. Note the duty of responsibility of the data that digital solutions must assumebecause the information they can collect is delicate, intimate and sensitive, calling into question in practice the challenges posed by their good protection.

On the other hand, in this field of digital advancement in mental health, they must exist effectiveness testing for evidence-based solutionsas well as any other psychological treatment to which a person is entitled.

In conclusion, we are faced with a situation where public investment in mental health is insufficient, with a significant lack of human and financial resources to provide the necessary care, and where digital technology can contribute to reducing the severity of the mental heat effectively, not to mention its risks and mature state in the process where we still need studies and other evidence to support the effectiveness of such solutions.

Author: Mara Sánchez García, social and community psychologist at the TAP Center.

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