The role of technology in mental healthcare

Policy Briefing

Published 28/04/2022

The role of technology in mental healthcare Page 1

Our briefing note explores the ethical and social issues arising from the use of technology in mental healthcare.

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Mental health in the UK

Research suggests that mental distress is increasing in the UK population. Commonly experienced mental health problems include depression and generalised anxiety. The proportion of children and young people reporting experiencing mental health problems has also increased over the last few years, with rising rates of self-harm behaviours and suicidal thoughts.

The fear, stress, and social isolation brought by COVID-19 have affected many people's mental health. This adds further pressure on mental health services, already stretched by a shortage of workforce and resources.

Interest and investment in technology

The demand for technological forms of mental health support has grown in recent years. In the UK, the number of people searching for mental health apps increased substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Investment in mental health technology is also rising. Global funding for mental health tech start-ups reached $5.5 billion in 2021.

There is interest in the application of mental healthcare technologies within the NHS. In England, digital therapy is already available as part of the Increasing Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) programme. The NHS plans to further expand access to digital support in the coming years and to leverage technology to tackle anxiety and depression in children and adults.