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Mental health in the marketplace: The post-coronavirus state of play

Will mental health at last move into the mainstream of healthcare debate and marketing – and how can we address the vast need that will be uncovered as a result?

Side effects of isolation include heightened feelings of frustration, boredom, loneliness, worry and anxiety.

Along with the terrible physical cost, we’re only just beginning to understand the huge toll that coronavirus is placing on our mental health. Before the pandemic, the World Health Organization reported that 25% of the world’s population would be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Post-coronavirus, we could be looking at this number doubling or even trebling, as anxiety and depression become an integral part of the New Normal. 

As a result of this alarming rise, will we see mental health at last moving into the mainstream of healthcare debate and marketing? And how can providers address the vast need that will be uncovered as a result?

The psychological cost of quarantine 

During lockdown, every single person has, at one point or another, felt frustrated, bored, lonely, or anxious. Coronavirus’s bodily symptoms mean government advice focused on hand-washing and social distancing, and we’re all hyper alert for any sign of a cough or high temperature. But according to a general population survey by Ipsos MORI in April 2020, people were more concerned about social and psychological issues as a result of the pandemic, than being physically ill with coronavirus.

Less than two months into the full scale of the coronavirus crisis in Britain, the BBC reported that people were already finding it difficult to get the mental health support they needed. According to GlobalWebIndex, 79% of 18-64-year-olds in the US and UK who were already concerned about their mental health said that it had worsened during the outbreak.

If we look at the psychological effect of quarantine, medical journals like The Lancet cites ‘dramatic effects’, including suicide, anger and even lawsuits. From HSJ’s report of a national suicide prevention plan, to The Sun’s ‘10 signs your loved one could be at risk of suicide during coronavirus lockdown’, we’re already seeing signs of these quarantine side-effects coming into play.

79% of 18-64-year-olds in the US and UK who were already concerned about their mental health said that it had worsened during the outbreak.

The balancing act of mental healthcare supply and demand

The inevitable increase in the number of people suffering from mental health disorders will, like the physical side of coronavirus, predictably lead to unprecedented demand for mental healthcare services and support. 

Mental health database Hub of Hope, which signposts people to local services and support, has seen a 300% increase in people looking for help, but with all their fundraising events and challenges now cancelled, the scales of supply and demand look perilously unbalanced. The story is the same for many other mental health support lifelines across the UK. 

However, all is not lost. Business owner Jon Salmon, a Heads Together ambassador and Time To Change champion who has been involved in a number of high profile mental health campaigns, says: ‘This funding gap is going to be an issue, but technology plays an incredible role in being able to galvanise people to get behind an idea, fund campaigns, and make change happen. 

‘Though the government and the NHS have a role to play, we can all play our part in supporting others. As individuals, that could be a small donation to a local foodbank or charity; for organisations, it’s about putting more emphasis on promoting wellbeing, not just for employees, but also in the services they’re offering to their customers.’

Data is key

Healthtech, like most of the modern world, is built on data. From measuring your heart rate to tracking how many hours of snoring you do a night, all those apps and gadgets produce and thrive on personal data. And now data is being called on to help identify and provide the support people need during a global pandemic.

As a group of 24 mental health experts wrote in The Lancet Psychiatry: ‘Given the unique circumstances of coronavirus, data will be vital to determine causal mechanisms associated with poor mental health.’ The experts recommend moment-to-moment monitoring – the kind of tracking that Apple Watch or FitBit fans already benefit from – to help measure and deliver the individual support that people may need, even going so far as to suggest AI trials. Essentially, it’s about using data to produce preventative solutions. 

‘Because of the innovation that’s happening around these different tools and services to look after yourself, it will mean that in the future people will hopefully be more able to detect if something doesn’t feel right – especially if they’ve got mental health and wellbeing trackers monitoring how they’re feeling,’ explains Salmon. ‘Having these services and tools is all about trying the maintain your mental and physical health, to stop you becoming so ill that you have to be admitted to hospital. I’m really optimistic that technology will find a way – more so than ever now – to help people get help earlier, before hitting crisis.’

Mindfulness apps make mental healthcare more mainstream

There are already around 318,000 health-related apps available, and global investment in mental health start-ups has made huge strides in recent years, jumping from £120m in 2014 to £580m in 2019, according to Sifted

‘The wellness and mindfulness space is an area that’s been developing and growing very fast over a number of years,’ says Salmon. ‘What was once a minority of people who had some sort of meditation app on their phone is going to become a phenomenal majority.’ 

And it’s not just for adults. Serial entrepreneur Michael Acton Smith, co-founder of Calm, a sleep, meditation and relaxation app, and founder of Mind Candy (which produced the hit Moshi Monsters game) has raised £12 million to fund the development of a new mindfulness app for children.

The gap left by burdened national health services presents a huge opportunity for healthcare companies, not only to provide support where it’s lacking, but also to define the future of mental healthcare.  

The gap left by burdened national health services presents a huge opportunity for healthcare companies, not only to provide support where it’s lacking, but also to define the future of mental healthcare.

Digital trends unlocking the future 

A few ‘futuristic’ Healthtech areas have been in the background for a while now, waiting for a breakthrough into the mainstream. ‘The digital future of mental healthcare and its workforce’ report (which informed a Health Education England review into the digital future of the healthcare workforce), highlighted several key technologies with the potential to revolutionise mental healthcare over the next 20 years or so. 

But two decades is a long time. Given the state of the healthcare system post-coronavirus, these technologies are likely to be fast-tracked, asap. Here’s a look at the what’s what of the future of digital mental healthcare:

  • Telemedicine takes charge; Telemedicine – for example, video conferenced patient consultations, remote monitoring of vital signs, and patient portals – has been up and coming for a while, but now it’s having a moment. Remote services have been the super subs of social distancing, allowing essential services to continue without patients leaving their homes. Being forced to go digital has accelerated our acceptance and understanding of how a space as personal as healthcare can work remotely, so telemedicine is likely to be here to stay.
  • Digital therapies; With mental healthcare (in general terms) becoming more individual-led rather than state-supported, people will need the tools to look after themselves. A huge boost in the number and range of digital self-help tools seems a no-brainer, especially in the wake of the fitness-apps market explosion. Increased demand of these tools and apps could well launch new mental healthcare and wellbeing trends, such as digital mindfulness gatherings and VR simulations.
  • Healthcare monitoring through social media; Beyond all those food and #sunset photos, social media could be used to monitor and predict mental health disorders. Promising new technology could harness AI to flag potential mental health problems inferred from your Instagram posts or Facebook chats. Despite the obvious concerns around privacy, this type of proactive healthcare means preventative measures may be able to save lives before more serious psychological problems have a chance to take hold.
  • Electronic health records (EHRs); Like telemedicine, EHRs have been on the cards for a while. Providing more prescriptions electronically makes so much more sense than printed paper copies in this digital age, but EHRs could also be part of the preventative healthcare movement. Allowing predictive tools to access patient data opens the door for more focused clinical trials and research, as well as providing better patient-carer services, all with the aim of delivering more tailored healthcare.

One positive of the coronavirus outbreak is the change in mental health perception. There’s definitely more awareness and parity between mental and physical wellbeing, and we can also see a shift towards self-dependency, responsibility and preventative action.

So what next?

Healthtech is there in its raw form, ready and waiting for the government, businesses, start-ups and charities to take it to the next level. One positive of the coronavirus outbreak is the change in mental health perception. There’s definitely more awareness and parity between mental and physical wellbeing, and we can also see a shift towards self-dependency, responsibility and preventative action. 

These positive outcomes will hopefully only improve as technology continues to transform the healthcare industry as a whole, and mental health moves into the mainstream marketplace.

For further information on Sticky, please contact: Rajet Gamhiouen, Head of Marketing, +44 (0)207 963 7281

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