23.09.2015

Mobile technology and mental health: progressing for patients’ effective recovery

Image | Owen and Aki

Anxiety, panic attacks, stress, depression, addictions and phobias are some of our society’s most common mental disorders. Mental health is defined, according to the World Health Organization, as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” At times because our lifestyles today are very demanding and taxing, at others due to traumatic situations, or simply for other environmental reasons, the reality is that many people have, at one time or another, sought help from a mental health professional.

In former times mental health problems were difficult to detect and, once discovered, the treatment was not always the correct one, or did not yield the results expected. Nevertheless, in the last 50 years psychiatry has made great advances, and now, thanks to the implementation of new technologies in the health sector, new methods and tools have appeared to ensure patients’ effective recovery.

Within the context of the future of mental health and new technologies, on 17 September the “2nd New Technologies and Mental Health Conference: Proposals for the Future” was organised by the Regional Government of Catalonia’s Health Department, the Mobile World Capital Barcelona’s mHealth programme, and Catalonia’s Mental Health Cluster. With a view to bringing together the main public and private actors in Catalonia’s mental health sector, the conference included presentations on projects and initiatives to foment collaboration and promote diffusion at both the national and international levels.

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Roser Fernández, General Secretary of the Regional Government of Catalonia’s Department of Health, welcomed the attendees who, during the morning sessions, listened to presentations on a total of 33 different technological projects in the area of mental health. Some examples of the projects presented were:

In the evening the session was resumed by Cristina Molina, director of the Master Plan for Mental Health and Addictions of the Regional Government of Catalonia’s Health Department. Molina stressed the importance of incorporating mobile technologies into the health sphere, with the aim of turning them into transformation tools when it comes to offering services. Mobile technologies’ potential entails remote communication between patients and professionals, the use of virtual reality, the introduction of apps to grant patients a more active role, or to promote self-management, the online monitoring of vital signs through sensors, as well as the integration of the social networks into treatment as a way to communicate and find support.

In this regard the talk given by Victoria Betton, director of the UK National Health Service’s (NHS) mHealth programme, and a researcher with a PhD in Social Media and Mental Health, was particularly illustrative. In her address, Digital technologies in mental health: opportunities, challenges and unexpected benefits, Betton presented the mHabitat programme, which got underway a year and a half ago in the United Kingdom. mHabitat consists of showing how it is possible to innovate in mental health through the use of digital resources. Among other actions, the programme collaborates with patients on the creation of applications that can be of use to them, as in the case of those targeting adolescents with mental conditions. Victoria Betton also supported the use of Social Media tools for their great potential in the treatment of mental disorders.

The “2nd New Technologies and Mental Health Conference: Proposals for the Future” concluded with an open debate in which several professionals from the health sector expressed and shared their points of view on how to bolster mental health services through the use of new technologies.

One of the challenges when it comes to implementing these types of solutions is the search for financing. Maite Garolera (Consorci Sanitari de Terrassa) and Miquel Casas (Hospital Universitari Vall d’ Hebrón) agreed that there is currently a lack of funding for the integration of these resources into the health system. Hospitals’ foundations carry out research, and are also obligated to find the necessary funds to do so. Under this economic model, in the end all the effort must always be made by the researcher.

Culturally citizens are not convinced regarding the effectiveness of remote care, although the increase in cases has made the technological route a necessity in terms of medical attention. People treated remotely can suffer, at an emotional level, from a lack of personal and direct care. On the other hand, professionals are certain that current health care system users are likely to be much more sincere in front of a screen than face to face with a doctor.

The advances in technologies are coming very fast, and, although the application of these new solutions to health is still in an incipient stage, according to Jordi Cid (IAS Girona) it will be society that forces technological change, even though issues like regulation, security in the handling of personal data, and quality evaluation models, are still unfolding.

Without a doubt the “2nd New Technologies and Mental Health Conference: Proposals for the Future” marked an advance in the creation of a roadmap to facilitate and promote the proper implementation of mobile technologies into the health sphere; Mobile World Capital Barcelona will continue working in this area, with the sector’s agents, on the organisation of the 3rd Conference.