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03 Mar 2023

Huge potential of digi-tech to improve common mental health challenges

Artificial intelligence, big data and machine-learning are already reshaping the future of mental healthcare.

Huge potential of digi-tech and AI to improve common mental health challenges.jpg


The need for effective and accessible support for mental health has never been higher. The Centre for Mental Health has estimated that up to 10 million people are likely to need new or additional mental health support as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic

During that time demand for services accelerated and now it's also intensified by anxiety around:

  • the economy
  • inflation
  • increasing pressure on household budgets

The British Medical Association recently warned psychiatry has been an under-filled specialty for too long. Despite recent gains in the trainee psychiatric workforce, there are still not enough doctors in mental health services. There are also gaps in the wider mental health workforce that need to be urgently addressed

Evidence-based support and mental health care

Dr Luke James, Bupa group deputy chief medical officer and director of healthcare transformation, says: “We are at a crossroads. We must decide whether to keep investing more and more money and resource into traditional ways of delivering care. Or we find new ways to provide effective evidence-based support and mental health care.”

Artificial intelligence (AI), big data and machine-learning – getting computers to think for themselves and learn without being guided by an explicit program – are already reshaping the future of mental healthcare.

Advances in technology provide opportunities

Pritesh Mistry, digital technologies fellow at the King’s Fund, says: “Advances in technology provide the opportunity to reconsider what good-quality, effective health and care looks like.

Technology can improve access to information to enable better decisions about what will work for an individual and can enable individuals to have more control and knowledge about their health.”

Predicting risk of mental health problems

Scientists at the Alan Turing Institute in London are using these technologies to develop modelling tools and algorithms. They hope this will predict an individual’s risk of mental health problems, including: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Dementia

This could open the door to preventative interventions. It would give us a deeper understanding of the genetic and lifestyle factors that influence mental health. Also, how we might modify them, as well as better diagnose and treat those at most risk.

Ultimately the Institute hopes to integrate mobile technology and online data analytics to give people personalised feedback on their health throughout their life.

Convenient, effective and user-friendly option

James says: “The future of AI and healthcare are deeply interconnected, and I am excited by the potential this offers. There is enormous potential to improve care and outcomes for healthcare consumers.

“These technologies will never replace person-to-person mental health care, but they do offer a convenient, effective and user-friendly option for the treatment of a number of common challenges such as mild to moderate anxiety and depression.

“Perhaps more importantly, they empower users to take more control of their own healthcare through an understanding of potential triggers for problems, and simple lifestyle changes to support better mental health.”

People-centred platforms

Dr Arun Thiyagarajan, general manager, Bupa Health Clinics, says, “Another huge plus with these platforms is that people can access them when they want. We know that some people, find it difficult to ask for help. Stigma, lack of trut in available resource, or the severity of symptoms are all known to influence help seeking behaviours." 

  • An estimated 29.2% of adults will develop a mental illness at some time in their lives.
  • Fewer than a quarter (22.5%) will seek help.

James says: “That comes at a huge personal and societal cost in terms of their quality of life, ability to function, the impact this has at home and work and future relapses.

“Investing in support which encourages people to take a more proactive approach to their mental health, and to seek help when they are struggling will help to head off problems and build stronger, more productive and engaged teams.”

Further reading

Read Bupa’s manager's guide to promoting good mental health in the workplace: Open up at work
 (PDF, 1.2MB)

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