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Grant Reilly


31st January 2022


Building digital innovation in support of mental health and wellbeing

This guest blog has been produced by Chris Wright, National Advisor for Digital Mental Health/ Head of Programme Digital Mental Health, Scottish Government

In the last 18 months, the use of digital mental health services such as computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has increased massively in Scotland, ensuring access to much-needed treatment. Over the last 12 months, more than 50,000 referrals and self-referrals have been received across our digital therapy services.

Digital treatments for common mental health conditions also expanded from a single treatment in early 2020 to 21 treatments in 2021. This was made possible by building on existing service infrastructure, introducing new digital platforms and delivering therapy in innovative ways using existing technical solutions such as Near Me.

Alongside the increase in digital treatments came an increase in reach - where digital mental health extended into many different contexts including support for long term health conditions, adult and child services, perinatal and across a range of conditions including depression, anxiety-related disorders, stress, panic, OCD, insomnia and phobias. All of these services were made available via referral. In addition, new self-referral pathways were introduced for selected treatments, with over 11,000 self-referrals received in the last year.

Such rapid development of digital solutions brings its own risks, and we recognise the need to build on the progress we have made by investing in a sustainable service infrastructure and addressing the needs of our workforce. These aspects are crucial to embed digital innovations appropriately and encourage acceptance, otherwise, we risk losing the momentum digital has gained and regress back to attitudes and levels of use pre-COVID.

In addition, an appetite for innovation needs in itself to be continual and sustained if we are to maximise opportunities for the use of new digital solutions and technologies in support of health and wellbeing. This requires the development of structures that promote innovative thinking, build cross-sector relationships, create opportunities and partnerships while ensuring that any innovation genuinely benefits the individuals who use digital services within mental health.

To further expand our horizons and capabilities in this area, DHI is partnering with the national Digital Mental Health Programme to formally launch a national Digital Mental Health Innovation Cluster in March 2022. After the launch, free membership of the cluster will be offered out to all interested parties via our wider networks.

Through the cluster, we aim to ignite powerful collaborations of shared interest, aligning expertise and skills from policy, health and care providers, education, academic and industry partners to drive forward activity centred on a common purpose. We will gather and share global and local insights, identify and develop innovative products and services while building knowledge to overcome key challenges for mental health and wellbeing.

The cluster will provide dedicated space and time for interaction with the local mental health ecosystems and knowledge exchange and attract a wide range of stakeholders from across different innovation communities. Connecting people together while providing direct links into government policy and national implementation programmes. The aim will be to identify and develop technologies suitable for use across all areas of Scotland and when delivered at scale have a clear evidenced impact on mental health and wellbeing.

The cluster will comprise representatives from Civic organisations, Academic institutions, Citizens, Commercial industry, Healthcare professionals/ Care providers and the Third sector.

If you are interested in being part of the Digital Mental Health Innovation Cluster click on the link below to add your details or update your existing preferences.

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