“There are many serious illnesses that often go undetected and unnoticed but are very real nonetheless. We need to bring greater awareness to the mental health crisis in order to create a better plan for the future.”
The future of mental health depends on clinicians and patients
A few pointed statistics sum up the enormity of the mental health crisis in America. According to numbers released by the National Institute of Mental Health, there were an estimated 43.6 million or 18.1 percent of adults in the United States with a mental illness in the year 2014, ten million or 4.2 percent of adults with serious mental illness, and one in five children has or will have a seriously disabling mental illness. Studies find that of those afflicted with mental illness 13.4% adults and 50.6% of children receive treatment in a given year. The 2014 National Health Interview Survey estimates that 3.1% of adults faced serious psychological distress in just 30 days alone.
With these numbers continuously growing – and concerns of affordability of treatment and geographical access faced by many patients – it’s clear that as a country we need an enormous amount of available resources to support and treat those afflicted with mental illness. It’s also clear that effectively managing millions of patients cannot always be done on a one-to-one, personal basis.
For many decades, mental health treatment was both inaccessible and, too often, a stigmatized taboo. Those in lower socioeconomic stratospheres simply couldn’t afford help, while those in more affluent cultures didn’t want to admit they needed it. While recent years have seen an expansion in affordable healthcare and a decreasing dishonor attached to therapeutic intervention, the problem still remains: with so many people needing help, how can efficient support be administered to the most amount of people in the most economic way?
Enter mobile health (mHealth), a subdivision of the electronic health (eHealth) movement, condoned and promoted by some of our country’s largest and most influential public health organizations. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mobile technologies can potentially “transform the face of health service delivery across the globe.”
In fact, a WHO report on mHealth suggests including mHealth solutions in a wide variety of mental and physical treatment responses. The WHO Mental Health Action Plan 2013—2020 even includes goals to promote mobile health technology in the development of self-care. This all comes on the heels of the United Nations 2010 citation of mHealth options as a primary strategy for promoting the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.
Clearly, the tide is coming in for mHealth solutions, but will the crowd onshore embrace and be buoyed by the waves?
mHealth success in the real world
The future success of mHealth and the apps it spawns falls outside of data, reports, statistics, theories and technology. While hypothetical conjecture and digitally innovative elements are critical, mHealth’s ultimate results rest completely within the realm of the personal. How enthusiastically clinicians embrace recommending apps – and how consistently patients use them – will be the true litmus test of mHealth efficacy. In a report published in JMIR Mental Health, researchers suggest six categories affecting mHealth growth:
- Performance expectancy: More patients will use mHealth apps as more clinicians recommend them.
- Effort expectancy: More patients will consistently experiment with and commit to apps when they are quicker and easier to use.
- Social influence: Apps will be more accepted and utilized as friends, family and colleagues increasingly endorse usage.
- Facilitating conditions: The more app developers offer user-friendly, technically supported and evidence-based programs, the more consumers will feel comfortable engaging with them.
- Hedonic motivation: Simply put, the more fun the app, the more likely patients will be to consistently use it.
- Price value: Many apps are $5 or less, which helps make them affordable to the largest audience.
From relaxation techniques for anxiety and self-acceptance exercises to processes for how to get out of a bad mood, the potential positive outcomes for mHealth apps is vast. Opportunities for their efficacy include the realms of supplemental treatment, support between therapeutic sessions and stimulating a proactive approach to patient self-care. Additionally, mental health apps reach the pool of patients who want but might not otherwise engage in mental health opportunities. While the reduced cost of mHealth is inviting, there’s another element that is equally important: for those who wish to be treated anonymously, or are too afraid to engage in interpersonal therapeutic settings, mHealth offers more palatable treatment.
As with any new movement, drawbacks exist. Primary concerns include lack of patient consistency, unsupportive clinicians, the absence of app quality review and professionally accredited certification. Compared to the potential positive outcomes that mHealth apps can create, however, the drawbacks seem minor and easily remedied.
This industry is in its infancy. As it grows it will identify areas that need increased focus, verification and protocol – all of which will lead to more solid infrastructure and, hopefully, increased accessible mental health for future generations.