Helping mental health patients — A digital health and approach

Apr 14, 2016 · 4 min read

Over 150 million Americans will suffer from a mental health problem at some point in their lives, but 75 percent will NOT seek traditional face-to-face treatment due to social stigma, lack of accessibility and cost concerns. These numbers are staggering. And yet, research shows that these same individuals are seeking out digital health and wellness solutions for their problems. For mental health, sufferers can now use a digital intervention called, online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT has been shown to be as effective as high fidelity face-to-face therapy. But we also know that these digital solutions work only insofar as they can also engage learners and keep them connected.

When we started Learn to Live in 2012, we designed our programs to provide online CBT to those who suffer from social anxiety, depression or stress with an easily accessible, private way of starting the digital health and wellness process from the comfort of their own homes. However, getting people to really engage in their own mental health, through this online medium, has been a learning process.

Engagement: Everyone has a story.
Despite the years of research showing CBT to be as effective as face-to-face therapy, simply putting the tools online is not enough to get people to use them. People need to feel invested in learning to use the new tools and motivated to make the effort. The source of that motivation for many people, we learned, comes from a desire to share their story. The socially anxious, it turns out, are actually quite social. And nothing sparks interest like reading a story that tells you you’re not alone. Understanding the human desire to tell a good story has become a key to driving engagement.

What does engagement look like?
We all know that Pixar makes some incredibly entertaining animated movies. It turns out that there’s a formula for their success, or more precisely 22 tips for a good story that a Pixar storyboard artist once tweeted out to her followers. These tips have been endlessly rehashed across different disciplines, but there is one tip I’d like to focus on here, #4.

4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

We were thrilled to see this tip on the list because it’s one that we have found in our experience at Learn to Live, working with people struggling with mental health issues. Every one of us is struggling with something in life, a dragon. For some of us that issue is social anxiety, depression or stress, but it could be insomnia, anger or infertility. Each of us is looking to overcome these issues, to improve our own tale, to make a better story for ourselves. We are the principal actors in our own story. And there is a way to make our story more engaging and meaningful. But it doesn’t necessarily involve defeating the dragon.

Once upon a time there was ME. Every day, I struggled with X. Until one day I tried something different. Because of that different approach, I was able to change my perception of my struggles. I used to think I had to defeat them. Now I understand I can live alongside many of them as I work through them.

Woody used to think he had to get rid of Buzz. Lightning McQueen hated the slow rural lifestyle. Carl Fredricksen wanted to escape the irritations of life. Joy wanted to exile Sadness. Each of them learned to adapt and accept the experience of the other as a part of them that made them richer and better in some way.

In the same way, each of us can learn to adapt to the thing that gives us the most difficulty. Ultimately, our best version of ourselves is not found in defeating our dragons, but in incorporating them into our story, in changing our perspective. That is the secret to Pixar’s storytelling success. It’s also the secret to ours.

Meet Dale Cook
Dale is the co-founder and CEO at Learn to Live, Inc., a rapidly growing startup offering customized online programs based on the proven principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Their programs are confidential, accessible anywhere and based on years of research showing online CBT programs to be as effective as face-to-face therapy. Dale and his team provide a welcome and inspiring voice in the ongoing conversations around mental health and around the importance of driving engagement with digital healthcare solutions for at-risk populations.

Dale will speak at MobCon Digital Health on April 26 in Minneapolis. Follow Learn to Live on Facebook or on Twitter at @LearnToLiveCBT. Follow Dale @dcookL2L.

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