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Digital Mental Health: Not So Accessible After all?

Wednesday, October 30, 2019 Mental Health News
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With increasingly long NHS waiting lists making it difficult for patients to access in-person talking therapies, many private companies are launching their own mental health support apps as a viable, easy-to-access alternative. However, many of these come with their own accessibility barriers, as GlobalData Medical Technology writer Chloe Kent explains.

“BetterHelp is one of the most well-known digital therapy platforms, and claims to be the world’s largest provider of e-counselling. Costing between $40 to $70 a week, users from around the world are matched to an accredited therapist who specialises in the type of issues they’re dealing with. Patient and therapist can then communicate through messaging and live chat sessions, as well as phone and video calls.

"Digital mental health companies operating in the UK are often recommended by clinicians as an alternative option to cash-strapped NHS mental health services. Patients in some areas face over a year on waiting lists for just six weeks of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) on the NHS, and many are sent out of their local area for treatment.

"However, digital platforms come with their own caveats. Some are prohibitively expensive for a lot of patients, while others are available only to certain individuals rather than being open-access."

The Therapy Couch founder Claire Goodwin-Fee says: “Mental health apps can be really useful but in my opinion they are limited and cannot replace the relationship between a client and therapist. The safe exploration and space to reflect is better face to face, where there is less likelihood for misunderstandings and the nuances of the humanness of a person can be fully explored and understood.”

Digital mental health solutions do come with their own unique benefits. They help overcome stigma by letting patients seek mental health treatment from the comfort of their own home. If patients struggle with physically getting to a therapist’s office, be it through illness or geographical inconvenience, then chatting to a certified therapist through an app can be their only option.

However, just because these platforms are expanding access to mental health treatment, it doesn’t mean the problem is now solved. If you live in an area where your local NHS has long waiting lists for talking therapies and isn’t signed up to one of these platforms, and you can’t access them through your university or workplace or afford to go private, then you’re still out of luck. Unfortunately, the battle to expand mental healthcare coverage to the masses isn’t done and dusted just yet.


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