Unlocking the power of technology for better mental health

Each year, almost 165 million people in the EU (38%) experience a mental health condition. By 2030, depressive disorders are expected to become the leading cause of disability in high-income countries.

In North-West Europe (NWE), while demand for mental health care has increased in recent years, many people who suffer from mental disorders still do not receive timely and adequate treatment. With governments promoting more self-management when it comes to one’s own health, digital solutions can contribute to keeping mental health services accessible and affordable for everyone, especially in times of economic austerity. Yet, implementation remains a challenge due to a lack of awareness and confidence in e-solutions (causes include questionable product quality, privacy issues) and insufficient multidisciplinary cooperation between actors (healthcare professionals, end-users, research institutes, treatment centres, SMEs, public authorities among others).

In this context, the eMEN project (e-mental health innovation and transnational implementation platform North West Europe) gathering partners from NL, DE, UK, FR, BE and IE, each with a specific expertise, and with a total budget of 5.36 million euros, supports practical solutions for scaling up e-mental health technology. For 3 years now, the consortium has been developing 7 innovative and high-quality pilot products addressing various mental health conditions. The app eWell has proved very successful in IE with over 130 assistant psychologists and psychologists recruited across the country. The Dutch pilot SAM screener was tested in the Balkbrug judicial institution on police officers, firemen as well as inmates, the latter being able to use a computer, smartphone or tablet with a feedback loop to the psychiatrists. As for the MIRROR app, targeting post-traumatic stress disorder, it has over 10 000 end-users in NWE. All products have been designed with end-users - i.e. people with a mental health condition among others hospital patients and students.

Current progress in the field of e-mental health are very promising, with clear indicators for wider reach, treatment enhancement, cost-effectiveness and a growing number of mental health care providers using this technology. To further raise awareness, influence attitudes and change behaviour with regard to e-mental health, eMEN has formed a first-of-its-kind integrated and multisectoral cooperation platform. It gathers 90 private and public partners and develops synergies with other eHealth hubs.

While digital tools are often rightly blamed for bearing a responsibility in the development of medical conditions such as anxiety or depression, technology provides us with opportunities to help monitor our mental health.

Applied effectively, e-health delivers a personalised healthcare (preventive, self-help, blended – combining face to face and online care), contributes to patients' empowerment and leads to substantial cost reductions when 100% face-to-face care remains expensive and with persisting social stigmas still preventing people from seeking help. By the end of the project, unmet needs shall have been reduced to 2% in NWE, compared to 6.8% at the beginning of the project while the use of e-mental health products is expected to double, from 7 to 15%.

In 2019, selected among 199 applications, eMEN (in the category “Modernising health services”) was one of 24 REGIOSTARS finalists (the yearly European Commission’s award for EU-funded projects which demonstrate excellence and new approaches in regional development). 2020 promises to be another fruitful year for the project with the kick-off of their capitalisation activities, which were approved by Interreg North-West Europe’s Monitoring Committee on 12 February. eMEN will transfer their knowledge in the field of e-mental health to rural areas, reaching out to more vulnerable groups, including homeless persons and refugees. Product demonstrations, training sessions (following the development of a toolkit) for mental health service providers and policy promotion activities will be held until end 2021.

For more information, you can get in touch with Oyono Vlijter, eMEN project leader at the Arq Foundation (NL).


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