Managing the mental health effects of the COVID-19 crisis with e-mental health technology

The World Economic Forum posted two interesting articles about how technology can help with managing the mental health fallout of the COVID-19 crisis:"How technology can help to manage COVID-19's mental health fallout" and "How coronavirus is affecting our mental health". 

Some excerpts of these articles:

"As the pandemic wears on, mental health challenges mount up. In the past months, measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus such as social distancing have led to greater isolation and severe financial distress for many. Researchers are warning that these measures could inflict long-lasting emotional trauma, and have an undeniable impact on mental health.  

For instance, almost 35% of respondents in a nationwide survey in China reported mild-to-severe psychological distress during and after confinement. Another survey, conducted in Germany during the lockdown, revealed a mean well-being score of 50.7 out of 100 (individuals not experiencing depression have a mean score of 75), and many reported several distresses:

  • 51% reported increased levels of irritation
  • 45% reported worsened sleep
  • 29% reported experiencing more anger and aggression

Experience from past epidemics also indicate that this impact on mental health is likely to persist in the medium to long term. For instance, in an evaluation of mental health status among SARS survivors in Hong Kong SAR, 47.8% experienced post-traumatic stress disorder of which 25.6% for 30 months after complete treatment for the virus

Meeting the increasing demand for mental health services as a result of the pandemic will not be possible using traditional methods.

Adopting new technologies for the many with less severe care needs has the potential to improve quality for those individuals and free-up face-to-face time for those who cannot engage digitally. Beyond basic videoconferencing, telepsychiatry could be augmented by decision support systems, aiding diagnosis and providing treatment options; and applications (wearables, monitoring devices, the internet of things) that allow a clinician to observe changes in a patient's mental state remotely and make contact reactively, potentially preventing mental health crises and quickly responding to treatment non-response or adverse medication effects. Ultimately, blended approaches of digital and face-to-face contact, guided by patient preference, are likely to be most effective.

There has historically been resistance on the part of clinicians to use telepsychiatry because of concerns about rapport, therapeutic alliance, safety and technological limitations, and because of a perceived lack of evidence. As with wider usage of any intervention or change in the way care is delivered, there needs to be an ongoing appraisal of quality, safety and effectiveness. In particular, it will be necessary to understand how to optimise its use by different subgroups of patients. There will be patients who potentially cannot engage in this manner, generally those who are most vulnerable, such as individuals with more severe mental illness or chaotic lifestyles, and those with high levels of risk. Access will also be affected by socioeconomic and age-related factors. 

Developments in digital psychiatry will allow more patients to have more access to mental health treatments. Telepsychiatry could potentially be the first phase of a broader revolution in psychiatry; one that allows care to become more preventative, reactive and empathic to the needs of the population via technology.

Private and philanthropic sector initiatives have a great role to play in helping scale community-based interventions."

Telepsychiatry (i.e. digitalising existing face-to-face therapy) is part of the 'blended care' approach which combines face-to-face and telepsychiatry with online treatment tools (e.g. iCBT and psycho-education modules and VR). The eMEN project promotes 'blended care', which is expected to become the new standard for mental health care. The COVID-19 crisis is accelerating this process.   

You can access both articles via the links below. 

For more information about the mental health effects of the COVID-19 crisis you can also read this interesting article which was published in the The Jerusalem Post on July 31st 2020: 'Mental health pandemic': A coronavirus side effect. 


"How technology can help to manage COVID-19's mental health fallout" and "How coronavirus is affecting our mental health"

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