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With NHS mental health teams already under pressure pre-coronavirus, what hope is there for patients currently queued in the system, as well as those needing to approach to a doctor or therapist for the first time following lockdown? The use of wearable health technology may be the answer to plugging this gap and positively contributing to the monumental challenge ahead.
Many health crises are expected to spiral out of the pandemic as certain services have been placed on hold until the physical health threat of the virus diminishes. This is expected to include a spike in people needing to seek the support of mental health services, whether as a result of isolation, dealing with loss without a physical support network, or anxieties around returning to a life outside of lockdown.
Mental health is an area of the NHS that was already under strain before the coronavirus pandemic hit, with referral times commonly taking weeks to progress. In a time of national crisis and significant physical threat, the London School of Economics and Political Science estimated impact on mental health and well-being is having an indicative monetary value of £2.25 billion per day in the UK; the equivalent of £43 per adult, per day.
This follows a stark warning by the UN that similarly predicts a further mental health crisis due to the pressure of consistent levels of physical threat, with the added anxiety of isolation and poverty. The signs of the crisis to come are already emerging, with a survey by Mind concluding that nearly a quarter of those seeking mental health support have failed to get the help they sought, experienced cancelled appointments, or struggled to speak to a GP or community mental health team at all.
This looming health crisis thrusts forward the opportunity for health tech to finally become more widely accepted and used. So, what solutions are there to provide additional support to those suffering from negative mental health, simultaneously easing the pressure on those medical professionals dealing with an influx of new patients?
Remote therapies and appointments were becoming more common before the pandemic and are becoming a normalised form of professional support due to their necessity throughout lockdown. However, some professionals feel that when face-to-face meetings are possible, they will again take precedent due to the reduced emotive connection caused by having a screen between each party. With this in mind, health tech that can stay with the patient, providing support and monitoring their wellbeing even when health professionals cannot be there, becomes a more viable alternative.
Co-founder and director of Moodbeam, Christina Colmer McHugh, believes that health tech can be a valuable solution when waiting times are likely to lengthen, as well as addressing the historic problem of those already in the system being periodically left between appointments without monitoring or support.
Moodbeam is the creator of the first wearable device designed to log mood and allows users to log their mood and monitor their emotional wellbeing – or that of others – and has already worked well within various workplaces, in education, health and social care settings, as well as helping individuals. The wearable device links to a companion app and gives insight into how moods change over time and shows patterns and trends that can identify triggers and support positive change. This data is also tracked along with sleep and step patterns to highlight factors that are causing unhappiness or stress, much like a ‘real-time diary’.
Christina said: ‘The benefit to wearable tech, rather than just trying to make current approaches virtual and digital, is that it allows for more constant and more informed analysis of individual patients. As a form of simple data collection, it is also a more accessible and usable type of support; from elderly relatives that have been isolated for a significant time period, to senior executives working extended hours, to small children heading to school for the first time since lockdown, as well as health professionals themselves.
‘Those that struggle to communicate or speak up, such as children and young people, are one of the most vulnerable groups. Moodbeam has seen marked success in this area. After all, it was developed to allow me to get closer to the thoughts and feelings of my daughter.
‘I came up with the idea after my daughter experienced a tough time at school. I wanted to be able to stay in touch with how she was feeling when she wasn’t with me and was on high alert after that. After a lot of research, I couldn’t find anything else on the market that would allow this type of wellbeing monitoring with the potential to make a positive difference to lives.
‘We’re also receiving some fantastic comments from Moodbeam users, particularly from medical professionals who feel confident about recommending the product following its ORCHA approval.’
Moodbeam already has a working relationship with the NHS through our work with NHS Humber Trust, which has been employing use of the wristbands within its Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), social isolation and pain management programmes.
Yorkshire and Humber Care Record programme director, Lee Rickles, said: ‘Moodbeam’s wristbands are so simple to use that the young, old, or vulnerable are able to self-log their moods away from treatment rooms, allowing for a more honest, natural approach to showing whether they are coping or not. Social isolation is a concern to us in Yorkshire as we cover such a large area – but it’s even more of a concern during a time such as this. It’s fantastic that we are still able to stay in touch with our patients from afar and start conversation with them on the back of the data tracked.
‘Mental health has historically been incredibly difficult to visualise and Moodbeam’s wristbands and companion apps allow us to literally visualise a patient’s mood trends. The simplicity allows everyone to be able to use the tech, making it particularly useful in cases where people struggle or cannot articulate their feelings, such as children or people with learning disabilities.’
Christina concluded: ‘Ultimately, it’s not realistic to expect NHS capacity to quickly increase to meet a stronger demand for mental health services following lockdown, as well as simultaneously improving waiting times and the service to those that were already in the system pre-pandemic. There is therefore not only a solid reason for medical professionals to consider a new technology and data-led led approach, such as wearable tech, but for consumers to consider their own means of supporting recovery and ongoing positive mental health.
‘Wearable tech such as Moodbeam is, after all, not about a medical solution but a way of prompting users to be mindful and to foster productive conversations with either medical professionals or simply those around them. The real impetus behind launching this product was to help anyone to connect and care from afar; something that is incredibly relevant during continued social distancing and isolation as well as being something that is likely to continue being in the public consciousness as we all look to connect more deeply with loved ones while prioritising our own mental and physical health.’