19.5 C
Byron Shire
January 23, 2022

Can mental healthcare be automated?

Latest News

Boat people we are

We here in this country, now called Australia, need to be reminded that we started off as ‘boat people’. The...

Other News

Mullumbimby Indian Restaurant

The Mullum Indian Restaurant is situated, conveniently, a short drive from town, at the Mullumbimby Golf Club and...

Food for thought?

‘The fundamental cause of the trouble,’ he wrote, ‘is that in the modern world, the stupid are cocksure while...

Bungawalbin primitive bush camp: death by a thousand cuts

Locals are raising concerns in relation to a Development Application for a ‘Community Facilities – Primitive camp ground' near Coraki that they say is a site prone to severe flooding and fire risk.

1,114 cases of COVID-19 in the Northern Rivers in last 24 hours

The Northern NSW Local Health District say that to 8pm yesterday, January 17, there were confirmed 1,114 new PCR cases of COVID-19.

COVID strategy

Our PM and premier have decided to fall back on the old ‘Dunkirk Strategy’: Retreat, withdraw and claim a...

No supply shortage at Byron Farmers Market!

While supermarket shelves around the country are running bare, there’s no shortage of fresh produce at our local farmers’...

Photo Shutterstock

As medical experts scramble to manage demand, how effective are digital interventions?

Depression is predicted to become the leading global cause of loss of life years due to illness by 2030, yet fewer than one in five people who suffer depression receive appropriate care. And there are worrisome signs the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating triggers of the disease.

As the burden of disease rises around the world, mental healthcare systems, many of which are already patently inadequate, will be stretched thin.

That’s why many experts are turning to digital interventions to help manage surging demand, packaging up psychotherapeutic treatments into computer programs and apps that can be used at home. But how effective are digital interventions? And will people accept therapy without a human face?

These are the questions an international team of researchers from Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy sought to answer through a systematic review and meta-analysis published today in Psychological Bulletin. The team analysed 83 studies published between 1990 and 2020, reporting on 15,530 individuals, making it the largest and most comprehensive analysis of digital mental healthcare to date.

The findings, while mixed, are promising.

Software alone not enough

The data suggests that digital interventions are effective in the treatment of depression, but the best results come when a digital program is augmented by support from an actual human. That’s when digital therapy can actually rival the effectiveness of face-to-face therapy.

‘Digital interventions could provide a viable, evidence-based method of meeting the growing demand for mental healthcare, especially where people are unable to access face-to-face therapy due to long waiting lists, financial constraints or other barriers,’ says Isaac Moshe, lead author of the study and a PhD researcher at the University of Helsinki. But, he notes, ‘software alone just isn’t enough for many people, especially individuals who suffer from moderate or more severe symptoms.’

Interestingly, the researchers found that while a level of human support behind a digital program was important, there was no marked difference in outcomes whether that support was provided by a highly experienced clinician or someone with less experience, such as a student or trainee. Moshe says that means digital programs could be scaled up by relying on less experienced practitioners, and offer a powerful solution to a growing problem.

Even with the assistance of a clinician, however, there are barriers to the uptake of digital healthcare.

According to one industry-based poll, major barriers include cost, security concerns and a lack of digital savviness among patients. Another major therapeutic concern is the idea that spending time working face-to-face with a human builds trust and a sense of alliance. This is particularly true among older generations.

Digital healthcare is also generally only appropriate for those who can afford the means to access it through a mobile phone or computer. That means it’s inaccessible for many people living in poverty or in remote communities.

AI has a role to play

The researchers also say artificial intelligence may have a role to play, principally in flagging risk factors for mental health, as well as helping clinicians develop tailor-made interventions.

‘Over three billion people now own a smartphone and wearable devices are growing in popularity,’ explains Lasse Sander from the University of Freiburg, who led the research team. ‘These devices produce a continuous stream of data related to a person’s behaviour and physiology. With new developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, we now have promising methods of using this data to identify if someone is at risk of developing a mental illness.’

Moshe cautions that the results are focused on moderate depression, and that digital interventions may not be sufficient to cater to severe cases.

‘There are very few studies involving people with severe depression or individuals at risk of suicide, leaving the evidence unclear for the role of digital interventions for the treatment of severe and complex depression,’ he says.

This article was originally published on Cosmos Magazine and was written by Amalyah Hart. Amalyah Hart is a science journalist based in Melbourne.

Published by The Echo in conjunction with Cosmos Magazine.

Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


  1. Global warming, Species extinction, over-population, national and international politics, Scott Morrison, Donald Trump, Kyle Minogue, Guy Sebastian and RAP…. AND covid !
    If you aren’t depressed, you’re obviously insane.
    Cheers, G”)

  2. Forget the digital, most problems stem from what’s artificially septic to the brain.
    Liars & cheaters weaken our senses so it’s either face to face or Lifeline that can
    often help deal with various setbacks & self worth.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Israel and Palestine

As an apologist for Israel, Michael Burd (Letters, 12 January) conveniently ignores the harsh truth of Israel’s brutal oppression, while claiming there are two...

Greens Mandy Nolan to hold community forum in support of nurses and paramedics

Locally and across the state nurses, and paramedics are struggling in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as they are being asked to do double shifts and manage effectively in health system that is struggling to cope. This has led to an increasing number of nurses and paramedics resigning.

NSW COVID update on COVID deaths – vax stats and comorbidities

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet again opened his COVID update with condolences to families who have lost loved ones, and thanks to the  ‘inspirational work of our health workers'.

January 21 National Cabinet on Omicron, RATs, vax and treatments

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has issued a media release about yesterday's meeting of the National Cabinet.