Mental illness, why bother if all goes well? Because the day it hits you or your loved ones, you may be faced with the harsh reality of “Mental Health in an unequal world”. Close to 1 billion people globally are living with a mental disorder. Yet, countries spend on avg. 2% of their national health budgets on mental health leaving a disproportionate gap between demand for mental health services and supply. Each year, October 10th marks the “World Mental Health Day”. This year the theme is “Mental Health in an Unequal World”.
Originally chosen by the World Federation for Mental Health, the theme Mental Health in an Unequal World” refers to the inequality in access to health services in low- and middle-income countries, where between 75% and 95% of patients with mental disorders have no access to mental health services at all. Despite the universal nature and the magnitude of mental illness, the gap between demand for mental health services and supply remains substantial.
The global pandemic along with the climate crisis and social disarrangement lead the world to a difficult place. To date, the pandemic is impacting people of all ages and backgrounds: Illness, economic impact, job insecurity, and most importantly, physical distancing leading to social isolation and millions of people facing mental health issues.
Close to one billion people have a mental disorder and anyone can be affected.
Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the global burden of disease. Globally, an estimated 5% of adults suffer from depression.
Globally, one in seven 10-19-year-olds suffers from a mental disorder. Half of all such disorders begin by the age of 14, but most go undiagnosed and untreated.
People with severe mental disorders like schizophrenia typically die 10-20 years earlier than the general population.
One in 100 deaths is by suicide. It is the fourth leading cause of death among young people aged 15-29.
The COVID -19 pandemic has had a significant impact on people’s mental health.
The World Federation for Mental Health also addresses the disparity between mental health investment and overall health. On average, countries spend only 2% of their national health budgets on mental health. This has changed little in recent years. Despite the scale of mental illness, the gap between demand for mental health services and supply remains substantial. Unaddressed mental health issues are now a leading global cause of disability and suffering. Yet only 10% receive “adequate” treatment – 75% receive no treatment at all.
The limited global availability of effective mental health treatments and a lack of objective measures of response to treatment, are some of the barriers in advancing patient outcomes. To reduce burden, it is critical to diagnose and monitor mood disorders using widely accessible, less costly, and scalable methods, which can enable a higher degree of specificity in mental health diagnoses and timely detection of clinical deterioration.
Building on the widespread adoption of smartphones, mobile health (mhealth) has gained significant interest as a means for capturing continuous, objectively observable and measurable data of patients’ behaviour and mental state. The data collected on smartphones and sensors represent a new approach aimed at measuring human behaviour and mental health, and thus an opportunity of detecting, assessing, and monitoring psychiatric disorders in a less costly and less burdensome way for the clinician.
The data collected on the smartphone are also referred to as digital biomarkers. These can be collected both passively through inbuilt sensors on the smartphone (physical activity and geolocation, social activity, text messages usage, phone usage, voice and speech pattern or wearables (sleep and activity), and actively via user engagement through self-monitored data/self-assessment data (mood, sleep, stress, medicine adherence).
By collecting this data between physician visits, clinicians can see fluctuations in patients’ mental states, providing a more holistic representation of the patient’s functioning over time. The data hereby offer the opportunity for clinicians to predict relevant outcomes in mood disorders and can thus serve as a tool of triage enabling to provide timely and preventative support to the individuals in critical need.
This approach, also known as digital-enabled psychiatry, has gained considerable interest and been extensively researched over the past decade to offer more people access to high-quality health and social care.
To learn more, visit our Research section here or watch a video on the opportunity of digital-enabled psychiatry from the Week of Health and Innovation conference 2021 in Denmark.
To turn on English subtitles, click on the ‘CC’ at the bottom of the video.
Psychiatrist Kristoffer Södersten from PsykiatriResurs in Sweden shares his experience using the Monsenso mHealth solution.
How does the Monsenso mHealth solution encourage and empower better mental health treatment?
Kristoffer explains how the Monsenso mHealth solution helps him to enhance and inform treatment. Specifically, the solution helps him to gain more relevant information about his patients, such as information that couldn’t have been obtained through the traditional method of verbal sessions. “It’s difficult to retrieve reliable and consistent data from each patient during a verbal consultation with them,” says Kristoffer.
Obtaining the right information is key for psychiatrists and psychologists to provide an accurate diagnosis
“[The accuracy from a diagnosis obtained] from face-to-face consultation depends so much on factors like personal relations, how comfortable the patient is in the conversation, cultural background, etc. Therefore, [due to these factors] it can be very arbitrary about which diagnosis a patient receives. This diagnosis can depend on which clinician he meets, and these other factors.” says Kristoffer. The information gathered from the Monsenso Clinic can help to provide a consistent and clearer view of the patient’s mental health, to better inform a diagnosis.
Kristoffer finds the Monsenso mHealth solution to be particularly helpful in capturing relevant objective data. The solution provides a comprehensive and easily accessible overview of relevant patient data, such as day score, mood score, sleep and medication adherence. Moreover, overview of collected sensor data, such as physical activity, social activity, phone usage and voice features can also be provided. This objective data can help to supplement the subjective data provided during verbal therapy.
“The technology of Monsenso can help us to gather more objective data that – together with the subjective experience – provide a more holistic picture of the patient’s problems, to help provide a more accurate diagnosis and follow-up treatment in a totally different way,” says Kristoffer.
Monsenso mHealth solution is providing a visualization of a historical data, which in some cases can identify why the symptoms appear and help to prevent them.
“You can also use this tool to predict future psychological outcomes, which can help us intervene early and prevent relapse.”
Like many Americans, I have a family member with a major mental illness who sometimes needs inpatient hospital care. Because I have been a healthcare researcher and journalist for 25 years, I’m particularly well prepared to help him navigate the system and get him the attention he deserves.
But there’s one issue which crops up again and again, and despite decades of trying I haven’t been able to find any kind of remedy. And as far as I can tell, this policy — which is universal in my region — actually encourages the delivery of substandard care.
As many people are aware, there’s far too few inpatient mental health beds in many regions of the country. My sense is that the problem may be a bit less acute where I live, in metro DC, as my relative can generally find inpatient care when he needs it. But which bed in which hospital? That’s another story.
Like any other service, inpatient mental health treatment can vary substantially from one institution to another. And as a member of a family support group for mental health problems, I get lots of feedback on which psych units are well-staffed, clean, efficient, thorough, kind to patients and good with discharge planning. (Of course, I also have my relative’s feedback and my own impressions to refer to as well.)
However, area hospitals with psych units absolutely, categorically refuse to tell patients or their families whether a bed is available. Yes, they will typically tell a psychiatrist with admitting privileges whether they can take additional patients, but for reasons which are not clear to me, a shrinking number of psychiatrists choose to obtain such privileges. In fact, in many years of trying, my relative hasn’t found a single one who does do direct admissions.
So here’s what happens. Our family realizes that he needs help, so one of us takes him to a hospital where he feels comfortable and safe. That hospital puts him through several hours of “medical clearance,” and only then do they let us know that there are no open beds there. Then they try to convince us to take whatever bed is available anywhere they can find.
In the most recent case, they pressured us to send him to Hospital X, an underfunded, poorly-rated facility which I’d dearly love to see decertified and closed. Since his episode seemed to be tailing off, we decided to take him home and bring him to another good facility the next day, which we did, successfully. But given the coercive nature of the original facility’s approach, it took all of the strength we could muster to do so.
I am certainly aware that with the limited availability of psych beds, every hospital will turn patients away at times. But if the hospitals let patients and/or family members know whether there was even a chance of admission, patients could make informed choices. They could also choose between their preferred hospitals, rather than being side-tracked into those that did not deserve their patronage.
My guess is that such hospitals, whose psych units are often unprofitable, are colluding to make sure that the more effective, humane and resource-rich psych units don’t get all of the traffic. After all, if patients don’t know which units can serve them, it’s easier for facilities to ricochet them across the region and give some of the inpatient days to whichever player is next in line.
But even if there’s no conspiracy involved, the policy of keeping patients out of the loop is unconscionable nonetheless. If patients end up wherever they’re sent, hospitals have no incentive to offer improved services. And that just about defines “anti-competitive.” I dearly hope someone calls these hospitals to account someday.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a severe mental illness that causes unstable moods, behaviour, and relationships. It usually begins during adolescence or early adulthood .
Most psychiatric disorders cause a permanent abnormal social behaviour, whereas borderline personality disorder only causes brief psychotic episodes. As a result, experts believe this is an atypical mental illness that can be misleading .
According to a 2015 study undertaken by French psychiatrist Lionel Cailhol, BPD is equally common in both genders. Nonetheless, in clinical populations, females represent 75% of all patients. Some experts believe this is due to men having difficulty seeking help, especially in psychotherapy .
BPD usually appears during late adolescence. However, clinicians recommend that a diagnosis should not be made before the age of 18 years. Patients should be treated later on when the symptoms are clear and persistent.
The most common causes of BPD are believed to be early maternal separation and childhood trauma . However, identifying symptoms at an early stage or educating a child in a manner that could prevent BPD would spare the patient a lot of pain, time and money. As life-coach Tami Green explains in one of her talks, a good way of avoiding BPD is to accept people and their flaws without trying to change them. She gives an example of a very sensitive child that is pressured by their parents to become tougher and bearable, however the pressure violates this child to the core of who they are. It can be very difficult to handle this sort of conversation without criticizing them. 
It is particularly hard for families of adolescents, because they need to help their children cope with their behaviour, provide them with help, and teach them to manage their risk-taking behaviour. Besides the many challenges that young people face, adolescents suffering from BPD can be very vulnerable and difficult to handle .
BPD symptoms evolve over time, however, here is a list of a few common symptoms that teenagers face:
One of the best therapies that helps patients to cope with BPD is Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT). This method consists of a cognitive-behavioural approach that emphasises the psycho-social aspects of treatment. DBT is conceived for people that are prone to react in a more intense and out-of-the-ordinary manner toward certain emotional situations, primarily those found in romantic, family and friend relationships .
The Monsenso mHealth solution can help clinicians monitor and treat young patients suffering from BPD. In fact, the Mental Health Services in the Region of Southern Denmark (MHS)will soon begin clinical trials of a mobile coach app that supports DBT of BPD patients. To learn more about this project, click here!
Connected health or technology-enabled care (TEC) is the collective term used for telecare, telehealth, telemedicine, mHealth, digital health, and eHealth services. TEC is now seen as a fundamental part of the solution to solve many healthcare challenges. TEC helps people self-manage their health and well-being, alert healthcare professionals in case of any changes in an individual’s condition and support medication adherence. It also helps clinicians and care providers deliver more efficient and cost-effective care.
Digital technology is advancing exponentially, and its cost is becoming more and more affordable. At the same time, the demand for more cost-effective healthcare is rising. Now more than ever, healthcare authorities need to adopt new technologies to help meet these challenges.
An aging population
In the UK, as in other parts of the world, the population is increasing, and people are living longer. These two factors, in addition to a rise in chronic conditions, present new healthcare challenges.
Over 25% of the population in the UK are affected by a chronic condition, and an increasing number have multiple conditions. It has been appraised that people with long-term conditions use up to 50% of all GP appointments and 70% of days spent in hospital beds. It has also been estimated that their care absorbs 70% of hospital and primary care budgets in England.
Use of mobile devices is increasing amongst all age groups
Although ownership of smartphones and tablets is growing rapidly, the older population, who are the largest users of health and social care services, hadn’t adopted this technology until now. However, in 2014, baby boomers generated the fastest year-on-year growth in smartphone penetration.
Additionally, smartphone owners are encouraged to exercise, lose weight and improve their health, with the help of numerous mobile health apps.
Other market drivers
The demand for apps and wearable devices is also being driven byan increased focus on personalised care. Large pharmaceutical companies are now using appsand wearables to gather valuable health-related patient data, support theirresearch, and provide an holistic service to patients.
In 2014, the leading pharmaceutical companies had an increase of 63 % in unique apps compared to 2013. In just one year, the total number of downloads of pharmaceutical apps increased by 197% as shown in Figure 1. These apps deliver education and training, can titrate medication and monitor compliance.
Figure 1. The number of apps published by leading pharmaceutical companies, 2013 and 2014.
There has also been an increase in on-line patient communities, using social media as a platform to exchange experiences with patients and carers.
Increasing patient trust in health apps
There is strong evidence that patients are now more than ever concerned about self-care, and they are interested in boosting their health and well-being. In addition to this, health technology companies are working to improve the quality of apps, increase user confidence and trust, and launch informed decision-making in app selection for health professionals, patients and the public.
Agencies like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or NHS Choices and its NHS Health Apps Library have developed criteria that judge apps for safety and technical proficiency. For example, for apps to be included on the NHS Choices search website, which in early 2015 lists around 150 apps, they must be reviewed by a technical team (testing relevance, legal compliance and data protection), then by a clinical team (to test scientific rigour).
PatientView is an independent organisation that has developed a systematic method of appraising health apps. Until April 2015, there were 363 apps recommended for the Apple platform and 236 for Android, with smaller numbers recommended for use on other platforms.
In 2014, PatientView undertook a survey of 1,130 patient group members to identify what people want from health apps as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. What do patients and carers want from health apps?