The Future of Digital Mental Health in Northern Ireland

Roundtable discussions are currently being organised by the Mental Health Foundation as the UK partner in the eMEN project to explore critical issues related to policy development, specifically regarding the challenges, benefits and ethics of developing and implementing digital mental health technologies in the four countries of the UK. The overall aim of these discussions is to use key findings from each of the four countries to inform the eMEN project’s Transnational Policy Solution document, with recommendations specific to the UK context.

It is well recognised that to alleviate the growing pressure on mental health services we need to deliver greater capacity, improve care pathways and reduce demand by delivering earlier interventions, taking preventative measures and tackling the stigma surrounding mental health. Among key stakeholders, it is increasingly acknowledged that the implementation of digitally enabled services, including digital tools and digital applications, might address some of these issues and assist in supporting, treating and preventing mental health problems. As a technique, a roundtable discussion is intended to identify problems and seek solutions in the relationship between, for example, formal decision makers, key stakeholders and other sectors of society for the purpose of consensus-building. It is designed to closely explore an identified issue, which can be used to define problems or questions, explore solutions, and develop actions or strategies that might adequately respond to these.

The first of four roundtables was held on December 6th 2018 in collaboration with Queen’s University Belfast on “The Future of Digital Mental Health in Northern Ireland”. The discussion involved 16 participants from key stakeholder groups, including leading academics, policy makers, lived experience, SMEs, healthcare professionals and service providers and focused on the role that digital technology can play in improving receipt and provision of mental health care in Northern Ireland. Diverse perspectives came into play, as each discussant identified what they consider to be the barriers and facilitators to the use of digital technologies for primary and secondary mental health care as well as more general use of digital tools within communities.

Practical solutions to the specific problems identified during the discussion were proposed. Elements of the discussion will be considered in terms of steering the academic research agenda over the coming five years. The stakeholders present were motivated by the conversation and expressed interest in continuing the collaboration in future roundtable discussions of the same theme.

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