Digital transformation of mental health services

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This paper makes a case for digital mental health and provides insights into how digital technologies can enhance (but not replace) existing mental health services. We describe digital mental health by presenting a suite of digital technologies (from digital interventions to the application of artificial intelligence). We discuss the benefits of digital mental health, for example, a digital intervention can be a more accessible stepping-stone to receiving support. The paper does, however, present less-discussed benefits with new concepts such as ‘poly-digital’, where many different apps/features (e.g. a sleep app, mood logging app and a mindfulness app etc.) can each address different factors of wellbeing, perhaps resulting in an aggregation of marginal gains. Another benefit is that digital mental health offers the ability to collect high-resolution real-world client data and provide client monitoring outside of therapy sessions. This data can be collected using digital phenotyping and ecological momentary assessment techniques (i.e. repeated mood or scale measures via an app). This allows digital mental health tools and real-world data to inform therapists and enrich face-to-face sessions. This can be referred to as blended care/adjunctive therapy where service users can engage in ‘channel switching’ between digital and non-digital (face-to-face) interventions providing a more integrated service. This digital integration can be referred to as a kind of ‘digital glue’ that helps join up the in-person sessions with the real world. The paper presents the challenges, for example, the majority of mental health apps maybe of inadequate quality and the lack of user retention. There are also ethical challenges, for example, with the perceived ‘over-promotion’ of screen-time and the perceived reduction in care when replacing humans with ‘computers’, and the trap of ‘technological solutionism’ whereby technology can be naively presumed to solve all problems. Finally, we argue for the need to take an evidence-based, systems thinking and co-production approach in the form of stakeholder-centered design when developing digital mental health services based on technologies. The main contribution of this paper is the integration of ideas from many different disciplines as well as the framework for blended care using ‘channel switching’ to showcase how digital data and technology can enrich physical services. Another contribution is the emergence of ‘poly-digital’ and a discussion on the challenges of digital mental health, specifically ‘digital ethics’.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
Journalnpj Mental Health Research
Issue number1
Early online date22 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 22 Aug 2023


  • digital health
  • Digital transformation
  • digital mental health


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