5 Digital Mental Health Categories Spanning the Care Continuum

In parallel with developing the Digital Mental Health Map, I surveyed as many different applications in this space as I could find. It probably does without saying that I was pleasantly surprised, even overwhelmed by the number of applications which exist. The illustration above summarizes those I found. There are many way in which these can be framed. I chose to use the “care continuum” frame as it seemed most customer oriented. In the future I will examine these offerings using other frames like core technology, dis-ease states, ecosystem player, etc.

Regularly, I talk to leaders/designers/makers, in this space, as well as customers, and I find that few grasp the full breadth of available solutions. I will use this, and several follow on posts, to describe what I have found. Here I will overview each category, and I will dive a little deeper on each in subsequent posts.

You can see that the applications across the continuum can be grouped into:

  1. Online portals & social communities, these staples of digital and online experiences, within and beyond mobile, have applications across the continuum as they are the prime means for how education is delivered, whether to consumers, treaters, etc., and. prime virtual means for how individuals come together as communities to educate in prevention and treatment context, delivery care and provide support across the continuum.
  2. Mobile apps, sensors & algorithms, are the ensemble behind a significant number digital mental health solutions as it combines: a) a portable user interface with active data gathering capability, b) a means of passive data gathering and c) a means of analyzing, deriving insight and informing its user, to help with prevention, tracking (a form of personal education) & screening, diagnosis, & recovery. [Note: mental health wearables fit here by the way.]
  3. TelePsych & therapeutic mobile apps, leverage narrow (SMS) & broadband (video) connections along with the task facilitation features of mobile apps, to span time and distance, and right-sizing mental health services supply (treaters & social work & payors) & demand (consumer, sufferers, patients, caregivers) gaps to a better degree than ever before.
  4. Virtual/augmented reality, is a vehicle for the delivery of exposure & other therapies, to reproduce experience and provide practice in developing engagement & coping strategies. These applications are particularly applied in the PTSD, anxiety/phobia and schizophrenia spaces in diagnostic and treatment contexts. There have also been used for anti-stigma and empathy building.
  5. Care delivery platforms, are a most significant category as they are the “experience hubs” capable of housing & integrating all these other categories to transform how mental health diagnosis, treatment and recovery are delivered. Their front ends can improve access, cost and quality for consumers, treaters, social work and payors. Its backend can gather, analyze and service insight from data to make us all smarter and more effective about the prevention and treatment of mental health in individuals and populations.

As I read, engaged and thought about these applications, I find myself both excited & hopeful on one hand, and overwhelmed & impatient, on another, about responsibly accelerating their adoption. I think about the hundreds of millions who are susceptible to, or suffering, with mental/emotional unwellness, which these solutions can help. I think about the medical and social service systems overwhelmed with mental health service demand, which these solutions can help, also. The Digital Mental Health Project is about aiding this responsible acceleration.

In the next few posts, I will continue unpacking these categories one by one, and I appreciate you engaging me in a running discussion on these insights.

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Be well.