How Digital Tools Can Transform Mental Healthcare

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Technology experts have introduced new measures on how to use digital technology tools to transform mental healthcare.

According to them, the global burden of mental illness, both in terms of human suffering and economic loss, was catastrophic and rapidly growing.

Forward-thinking members of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Neurotechnologies recently convened to explore the many ways that rapid advances in telecommunications, big data analytics, including machine learning, mobile technologies and biosensors – loosely grouped together under the umbrella term “digital technologies” – are poised to have a profound impact on diverse aspects of mental healthcare and treatment, the report stated.

“Worldwide, mental health conditions affect more than a third of the world’s population. Just two conditions alone – depression and anxiety – result in a staggering estimated $1 trillion in lost economic productivity.

“When committing to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, world leaders emphasised the importance of promoting mental health and well-being worldwide. Yet three years later, the situation remains grim. “Every year, 800,000 lives are lost due to suicide. In the United States alone, one in five people is living with a mental illness, and 60 per cent of them receive no treatment. “The situation is far worse in many low- and middle-income countries, Nigeria inclusive,” the experts said in a statement.

According to them, international organisations like International Telecoms Union (ITU) and World Health Organisation (WHO) are re-doubling their efforts on this issue.

According to a recent report, technology experts said digital-based mental health interventions have already been shown to work in experimental settings and, in some cases, have been successfully scaled for use in larger populations. The first wave of digital interventions has been based on the web-based administration of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is often assisted by trained psychologists, and is increasingly delivered by autonomous AI-powered chatbots that offer personalized counselling and psychosocial interventions through highly scalable platforms with minimal incremental costs.

The report said simple and readily accessible technologies such as mobile phone-based interactive voice response systems have already been used in some of the most impoverished communities in Pakistan to identify and assist the families of children with developmental disorders.