Call Us: +44 (0) 7825 431294

Putting the ‘m’ in mental health

This week I’m writing about the huge potential to address perhaps the most prevalent chronic condition on the planet – mental illness. Now, when I say putting the ‘m’ in I am of course talking about mHealth – but why is this is so important for mental health in particular?

mhealth mental health illness

This week I read a fantastic article in the Financial Times by Martin Wolf (‘Mental illness is our most urgent health problem’) (subscription) which highlighted the huge prevalence (38% of all illness in high-income countries according to the WHO) and staggering under-treatment of these conditions (only a third of adults and a quarter of children in the UK for example). Unsurprisingly, as this was the FT, Martin also pointed out the huge socio-economic damage, as effectively we are limiting huge chunks of the population from effective participation in work and society.

A doctor in my pocket?

Coincidentally the previous evening I was at a Health 2.0 Meetup in Manchester where I learnt that CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is only made available to 10% of mental health patients – and in some regions such as my own an even more shocking 6%. This despite its recommendation by bodies such as NICE (National institute of Health and clinical Excellence) in the UK. As a result, some enterprising academics at Manchester University (Sandra Bucci and John Ainsworth) have been devoting serious effort to researching the role of mobile health technologies to support mental health patients, in particular Sandra’s work which is embedding CBT pathways into a phone app. Even more intriguingly, they referred to the possibility of using bio-metric data (from the accelerometer or a heart-rate monitor) gathered from a phone or activity tracker being used to predict stress and potential for a relapse in the patient. I’ve often said that the real power of mHealth comes from combining subjective patient reported data with M2M data collection.

The ‘Cinderella’ syndrome

Nonetheless, It seems shocking that CBT is not available more widely. There may be various reasons:

–       There is some controversy over the effectiveness of CBT – although the weight of evidence is that it works very well for enough patients to make a real difference

–       Traditionally mental health has been under-funded – only 11% of the health budget in the UK for example, so it’s known as the ‘Cinderella’ service – the poor, over-worked relation of the health service.

–       Mental illness is something of a taboo subject, and many of us, even health professionals, seem afraid to address it head-on. We didn’t improve our response to cancer and AIDs until we dropped the fear factor.

Whatever the reasons, this is a classic example of constrained resources and it seem obvious that low-cost mHealth solutions could help to bridge the gap, at least for some patients (interestingly, a study by Eric Granholm found even SMS-based services to be useful).

Let’s change the conversation

Apart from the research team at Manchester, there are a number of app/service developers working in this field, like Big White Wall and Buddy, with a degree of success, and I hope that continues to build. Many of us (myself included) have been personally affected by mental illness in our families and friends, and have seen the devastating effects. Why wouldn’t we want to do something to help if we could? But it seems to me the first big change will come when we acknowledge the scale of the mental illness ‘epidemic’ and aren’t afraid to talk about some real options to improve patients’ chances. So please do respond below – or you can always contact me.

Leave a Reply