Technology and Mental Health Care – Key Advantages and Disadvantages

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Mental illness is an epidemic in the UK, with one in four of us experiencing a mental health difficulty each year. Despite the commonality of poor mental health across the population, the UK has something of a fractious relationship with discussions around mental health and associated treatments. Illnesses like depression and anxiety have been stigmatized culturally, making it more difficult for people to be honest with their condition and seek the help they need. 

There are many solutions to this issue, and mental health stigma is already being dismantled in some key ways – but technological advancements present a golden opportunity to enable wider and more direct access to healthcare. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this new frontier?

Access to Care

For starters, access to mental healthcare is difficult for many at present, as is access to primary care at large. With the NHS continuing to suffer from underfunding and administrative bloat, GP appointments have become harder to secure – and waiting lists for NHS therapies have grown longer.

Technological solutions like AI-led mindfulness courses and digital therapy sessions are crucial for lightening the load on primary care facilities, and can also greatly increase the amount of people being treated for conditions.

Reducing Stigma

The proliferation of digital healthcare solutions can also work to reduce the stigma attached to mental health issues, as working towards treating them can become as simple as downloading an app or conversing with a chatbot. The ability to start mental health treatment without having to interact with other people can also be a tonic for those with anxiety and with their thoughts on seeking help.

An Unknown Science

The other side of the coin is the relative experimentality of technological treatments over more traditional lines of inquiry. There are regulatory considerations with any new healthcare technologies, which care facilities must meet with the right legal counsel and institutional rigor. Research into new technological forms of mental healthcare must comply with codes of conduct and wider legal frameworks in order not to unexpectedly or unnecessarily harm patients undergoing experimental procedures. 

Data and Privacy

Speaking of regulatory compliance, there is also a separate angle to address regarding technological solutions for mental health treatment. With many practical – and currently available – technological solutions involving remote access to therapies or resources, there is the introduction of risk to privacy or personal information.

Access to such resources requires the provision of personal and sensitive information, from the specifics of a patient’s condition to direct personal information including addresses and dates of birth. This is a special risk given the ailing nature of the NHS’ digital infrastructure, where ransomware attacks frequently endanger patient information.

Still, no new treatment or technology is without its challenges. With the right approaches and the right funding, technological solutions for mental illness could be a new frontier for a healthier nation.

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I'm Alice and I live with a dizzying assortment of invisible disabilities, including ADHD and fibromyalgia. I write to raise awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental and chronic illnesses of all kinds. 

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