The World Health Organization has registered an increase in the number of mental disorders worldwide. In 2017, nearly 10% of people needed therapeutic counseling, and in 2019, this figure grew to 13%. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the situation was aggravated by the fact that people had to stay under lock and key due to quarantine restrictions. Many people experienced stress because of long-lasting self-isolation. Seeing a therapist became nearly impossible, so clinics began to introduce remote therapy services through online mental health support platforms. Let’s consider the features that custom healthcare software should include in order to provide 24/7 support.
Mental illness statistics
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health found that, in 2019, one in five American adults suffered from mental disorders. This statistic includes any mental illnesses (AMIs). In 29% of cases, AMIs happen to young people aged 18-25, and women are 9% more likely to be diagnosed with this type of disorder.
About 13 million adults suffered from serious mental illnesses (SMIs). There are more cases (8.6%) in the category of 18-25-year-olds, and the prevalence of SMIs among women is almost 3% higher.
According to research on mental health issues arising during the pandemic, the situation with mental disorders has deteriorated. The average world statistics are terrifying because the percentage of AMIs and SMIs has grown by over ten times compared to the data for 2017:
- depression: 28% vs. 3.4%
- anxiety disorder: 26.9% vs. 3.8%
- post-traumatic stress: 24.1%, psychological distress: 50% (the data for 2017 are not available).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated that 40% of American adults have reported mental disorders since the pandemic outbreak, while no more than 20% of people reported them before the pandemic.
The seriousness of mental health problems for society should not be underestimated. Experts are striving to create new methods of providing psychological assistance using advanced technologies. Companies’ executives are investing in medical software development, which will allow specialists to hold remote consultations.
Online mental health support
A few years ago, the WHO started a special initiative for mental health for 2019-2023 called Universal Health Coverage for Mental Health. The program is aimed at expanding mental health services and making them available to 100 million more people around the world. One of the ways to do this is to offer remote consultations via platforms for online mental health support.
There are several ways to find information about mental health issues on the Internet:
- looking through reliable sources covering diseases, symptoms, and treatment methods,
- seeking individual online mental health care in chats with volunteers and consultants from various organizations (Beat, CALM, My Black Dog),
- joining an online community to get advice and support from people with similar problems,
- downloading specialized mobile apps with information, tips, games, and exercises,
- seeking self-help by taking a cognitive behavioral therapy course online,
- having online mental health therapy with a specialist via Skype, Zoom, or other programs.
Mobile platforms for online mental health support draw users’ attention. Such platforms are always at hand and combine most of the above therapies.
Features that a platform for online mental health support should include
Modern mental health support apps allow users to pay for services, make therapeutic counseling appointments, schedule counseling sessions, communicate with specialists, order e-prescriptions, take notes, do exercises, and much more. Additionally, an app can include a forum, a library with educational materials, and online self-help courses.
Integration of accounts
When a couple needs therapeutic counseling, integration of accounts may be required. It’s useful for spouses to share mutual information and book individual or joint counseling sessions from a single account. In addition, one should bear in mind that such mental problems as dementia create additional requirements on product accessibility for medical software developers.
Medical data transfer and monetary transactions
Ensuring personal health information confidentiality and transaction security is a must. Therefore, software products are obliged to comply with legal data protection requirements (HIPAA in the USA, GDPR in the EU, and their equivalents in other countries). It’s a good idea to introduce different service plans, for example, one-time payments and subscriptions with monthly installments. Most clinics accept health insurance, so the app should provide for the possibility of making payments through insurance companies and/or be integrated with clearinghouses.
Online mental health support platforms should offer several ways to book appointments:
- depending on the healthcare provider: a user selects a specialist and makes a booking,
- depending on the issue: a user fills in a form specifying their issues and then makes an appointment,
- automatically: a user fills in a questionnaire, and the program automatically offers a suitable specialist.
A therapy session
Sometimes a person feels more comfortable discussing issues with a specialist without eye-to-eye contact. The platform should provide for convenient communication options – tools for video communication and secure messaging apps.
Just as with traditional offline visits, specialists may prescribe medicines after an online session. In mobile and web apps, this can be done in the form of e-prescriptions. For this purpose, the app should be integrated with solutions for writing such prescriptions.
In addition to sessions, specialists often give their clients home assignments – for example, to keep a diary. Users need to be able to do these tasks online and share them with their specialists.
The system should allow users to write reviews in order to rank therapists.
Privacy and data protection are critical for online mental health support platforms, hence they must include user data encryption and two-factor authentication.
An online community
It is important to include an additional feature – the possibility to communicate on forums with other people who have similar problems. While a doctor is only available by appointment, consultants, volunteers, and other people can provide 24/7 support. Give your users a forum where they can share their problems with others and receive help. This community will significantly enhance the app’s basic functionality.
Sometimes people find it hard to confide in others and discuss their problems openly. A chatbot will take on the role of a helper in such cases. Virtual assistants are equipped with Artificial Intelligence and can hold complicated conversations.
There is a lot of information about mental disorders on the internet, but not all the resources are trustworthy. Such publications should refer to sources established with the support of field-specific associations of specialists. A clinic can provide tutorials in any convenient format: texts, video, audio, and games.
Online self-help courses
A self-help course will be a useful feature. It can precede individual sessions or supplement online mental health therapy. Such a course consists of online exercises and is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy.
For example, the Wysa app helps people control their anxiety. It supports people when they are stressed, can’t sleep, or suffer from the loss of a loved one. The system does this with the help of scientifically proven methods: cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, yoga, meditation, and exercises.
Online therapy technologies
Features of platforms for online mental health support are enhanced by virtue of the following technologies:
Communicating with chatbots is not the only thing that AI algorithms help to do. The technology detects AMI prior to its severe symptom expression. AI-powered programs like World Welfare Project study people’s profiles on social networks and point out those who might have depression based on intimations in their written speech.
VR improves therapeutic counseling, helping people cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. There are apps on the market, integrated with VR glasses and sensors that monitor patients’ reactions. A controlled environment is created for each medical case. For example, the system imitates a flight for people with a fear of flying or a walk in a public place for people with agoraphobia.
Apps for diagnosing mental disorders
Apps that can diagnose mental diseases by voice, facial expression, and speech are currently being developed. For example, people with depression pronounce vowels in a different manner and smile less. Patients diagnosed with schizophrenia often raise their eyebrows when looking away. These behavioral markers can be used to help people identify evidence of diseases through apps.
Benefits of online mental health care platforms
Platforms for online mental health support allow people to access therapeutic care remotely in the context of the pandemic and social distancing. In addition, they help people in the following manner:
- save them time,
- provide assistance to disabled people and those who live in remote areas,
- allow people to communicate with specialists from their homes,
- reduce global economy expenditure: by 2030, mental diseases will cost the global economy $6 trillion. In some cases, people with mental problems are not capable of working, and significant funds are spent on their treatment. Platforms for online mental health support will help in solving this issue.
A reliable platform is an important part of online mental health support. It helps people combat mental disorders, improves the quality of their lives, provides 24/7 assistance, and ensures instant two-way communication. Today, technologies like blockchain, AI/ML-based platforms, neural networks, and others allow healthcare software development companies to take mental health support to a brand new level.
Author: Sergey Avdeychik
My name is Sergey Avdeychik, and I am passionate about using technology, learning new skills and being always up for a challenge. Currently, I work as a Director of Healthcare Technologies at Andersen. Being a part of the IT family for years, I aim at transforming IT processes in support of business transformation.
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