Supplementing Mental Health Care with Digital Solutions

Many people struggle with mental illness. In the United States, nearly one in five adults lives with some type of mental health issue (52.9 million in 2020). Despite this prevalence, research suggests that only half of the people with mental health issues receive adequate treatment. So why is this number so low? And how can digital solutions improve mental health care access for those who need it?

Barriers to Access

Individuals who struggle with their mental health often encounter a number of barriers that keep them from receiving the help that they need. While some barriers include social stigma or lack of mental health education, others are directly related to access; such as financial barriers, racial barriers, convenience, and even a shortage of available mental health professionals. A study published in 2021, which surveyed ~50,000 adults, found that a staggering 95.7% of these individuals had directly experienced one or more barriers to accessing mental health care. However, recent advancements in digital mental health care are providing new opportunities to overcome some of these barriers.

Benefits of Digital Mental Health Care

Digital solutions are allowing us to re-evaluate what it means to receive mental health care. With an app or online platform, users have immediate access to mental health assessments, surveys, and self-care tools. They can use these tools to independently monitor and improve their own mental health; learn more about mental health conditions; or integrate the tools into their existing mental health care practice.

This type of digital access overcomes many obstacles. For instance, patients who struggle to afford traditional care may find that digital tools recommended by their physicians allow them to monitor and process their mental health struggles with little to no cost. The convenience of a digital platform may also allow someone with a busy schedule to access care more regularly. Similarly, those who struggle with the social stigma surrounding mental health issues may find that they enjoy digital solutions, as they have the option to choose from a variety of self-guided activities.

In addition to easier access, there are other benefits for supplementing traditional mental health care with online platforms or apps. For instance, the assessments and patient-provider interactions are often centralized on one platform, which allows physicians to easily track and monitor wellbeing. Ultimately, this allows for more precise, personalized treatment plans.

Evaluating and Selecting a Digital Mental Health Tool

Many clinicians are beginning to supplement their existing practice with new digital mental health tools. Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, allow doctors and researchers the opportunity to monitor patients’ progress, provide support, and increase their understanding of mental wellbeing in innovative ways.

One of the primary challenges present in the digital mental health space is that individuals often have a hard time identifying which app or platform would be most useful to them. With over 10,000 mental health apps available on the market, users often feel overwhelmed and uncertain of where to begin. However, research has found that individuals are much more open to using mental health apps, and continue using the apps more consistently, when recommended by their physician.

As a physician, there are several elements to consider when suggesting a digital solution to patients. Unlike traditional interventions and medications, which require approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are no standard regulations for developing apps. Therefore, it is important to review platforms critically, and ensure that the digital tool you use is informed by evidence-based practices.

In addition to this, physicians should review the platform’s privacy policy. Here they can determine whether the app is HIPAA compliant; if Patient Health Information (PHI) is collected and where it is stored; and whether the app sells data to third parties. Lastly, it is useful to determine whether the app offers elements of interoperability, which allow physicians to integrate the app’s data into their current treatment plan.

Improving Care at Total Brain

At Total Brain, we provide a mental health app that couples powerful self-monitoring with personalized self-care recommendations for improved mental health. Individuals have the opportunity to monitor their wellbeing, reflect on their mental health and receive immediate, in-app referrals to third party health providers.

Using the Total Brain app, mental health providers can access data provided by their patients to identify risk and recovery trends, create individualized treatment plans and gain unique insight into their patients’ progress. This method, called Measurement-Based Care (MBC), is the practice of basing clinical care on patient data collected throughout treatment episodes. Utilizing this approach, individuals are able to receive immediate, personalized mental health care from the comfort and privacy of their home.

Summary

As we continue to explore the challenges that individuals face when seeking mental health care, we find that digital mental health tools offer great solutions for supplementing traditional practices. These digital tools create opportunities which can largely ease the burden from those looking to access mental health resources, while providing cutting-edge, individualized treatment.

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