A forthcoming WISH 2020 report titled The Digital Mental Health Revolution: Transforming Care Through Innovation and Scale-Up will claim that digital tools designed to address mental health needs are not just a future luxury for modern health systems, but an urgent necessity.

The new report has been produced by an international group led by Professor Helen Christensen, director and chief scientist of the Australia-based Black Dog Institute, a not-for-profit facility and medical research institute that investigates mental health across the lifespan, and by Dr. Tom Insel, a leading American expert in mental health research, policy, and technology and co-founder and chair of Humanest Care, a clinically augmented, community-based online emotional support system.

(left to right) Prof. Helen Christensen and Dr. Tom Insel, co-chairs of the WISH 2020 forum on Mental Health and Digital Technologies

One of the most critical health needs, mental health disorders affect one in three people worldwide at some point in their life – they are among the leading causes of disability and account for nearly eight million deaths annually (almost a million of which are by suicide). The report finds that the gap between the treatment people need and what current health systems can deliver in high-, middle- and low-income countries is currently so great that ‘only a revolution in access, quality, and engagement through technology’ can meaningfully address it. The experience of professionals and service users during the COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened the consensus for a need to create a ‘next generation’ of digital mental health innovations. With collaboration from leading experts in digital mental health, such as Health for All’s Jonty Roland and Research Fellow Dr. Emma Lawrence of Imperial College London, the new report will offer a set of policy recommendations based on case studies, exploring ways in which governments, investors, businesses, schools, and health leaders can all play a role.

Prof. Helen Christensen said: “Even before COVID-19 struck the world, mental health services were struggling in every country. We know that mental health, and drug and alcohol problems are the leading cause of disability across the world and now with COVID-19, 75% of the population is reporting psychological distress. To cope with this, massive interventions that reach millions of people are needed. Digital interventions and digital-first services are the way to do this and it’s an issue that faces every government in every country.

“We need to bring together the digital innovations that are already in use by consumers with key insights and evidence on their effectiveness from science. Our report aims to understand the ways that digital models have worked and the ways we can best support the development of digital technologies for mental health into the future.” Among the policy briefings that will guide summit discussions in November, Child and Adolescent Mental Health touches on barriers to the accessibility of high-quality mental health care for children and adolescents. WISH has also partnered with The BMJ, one of the world’s oldest and most cited general medical journals, on a report titled Toxic Stress: Mitigating Childhood Adversity that Affects Lifelong Physical and Mental Health, in the hope that the evidence-based recommendations will guide researchers and policymakers in tackling this critical issue. With WISH expected to bring thousands of healthcare leaders and frontline workers into the discussion, the summit is a critical opportunity to consider robust solutions that will contribute to meeting a key UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).