Chris O’Sullivan: Digital mental health interventions need more investment

Chris O'SullivanIn recent years, we have seen a proliferation in digital mental health tools, and a challenge on the part of researchers and innovators to adequately evidence the efficacy of these new tools. These challenges both inhibit progress, and create a risk that ineffective, or even damaging, tools are adopted. In the workplace, there is a rational belief that digital solutions may be the answer to increasing take-up of psychological support at work.

The results of a review of evidence for digital mental health interventions, Improving Employee Wellbeing and Effectiveness: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Web-Based Psychological Interventions Delivered in the Workplace, published by the School of Psychology, University of Sussex, in July 2017, clearly show that they can produce positive effects on psychological wellbeing and work effectiveness. The review also suggests that digital interventions have a comparable effect to other non-digital occupational interventions in both improving psychological wellbeing and enhancing engagement in the workplace.

In the workplace, digital tools can for some people create an opportunity to engage with a psychological therapy at free or low cost to individuals, and a lower cost than face-to-face interventions for employers.

We have reached a point of evidence now where we can be certain that digital mental health interventions work. We do, however, need to get better at adapting and creating interventions for a workplace setting. We also need to improve the quality of research in this field.

The Mental Health Foundation is actively doing this with its eMen project, which aims to improve the take up of digital mental health tools by connecting research, innovation and services in this way.

As more interest and investment comes to digital mental health, we must take steps to ensure innovation both uses, and helps create, the best evidence.

Chris O’ Sullivan is head of workplace mental health at the Mental Health Foundation

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