Connect with us

Digital health

Roundtable Recap: Mental Health in the Digital Age



Over the past few years, mental health has been elevated from a taboo topic to one of the most talked-about issues of our time. Now, the massive influx of digital health tools promises to usher in a new age of affordable, accessible mental health support.

Seven digital health experts discussed the opportunities and challenges ahead in a recent Health Tech World roundtable discussion:

Adam Pieczonka – Co-Founder & Chair – 1907 Foundation

Dr Derek Richards – Chief Science Officer – SilverCloud Health

Emil Jimenez – Founder & CEO – MindBank Ai

Pete Trainor – Board Member – Headspace

Phil Worms – Chief Executive Officer – Frog Systems

Thomas (Tom) Tsang – CEO & Co-Founder – Valera Health, Inc.

Tim Dunn – Chief Commercial Officer – Onebright

Alastair MacColl – Chair, UHI (Host)

Here are our highlights. You can watch the full fascinating debate below.

The data opportunity

All of us generate huge volumes of data every day just by owning and using a mobile phone.

Some of this data can reveal details about who and how we are, potentially helping to tailor treatment.

However, Pete argues that it is essential to consider the ethical implications of using this data which, he believes, should be owned by the individuals who generate it.

There are many companies out there creating mental health tools without considering the implications.

Pete Trainor

Pete says:

“Digital therapeutic regulation is going to be very important. We need to make sure that we talk about ethics and every single thing that we do regarding data and our mental health.”

Phil agrees, and highlights that it’s vital that companies are transparent in order to cement trust among consumers.

Meanwhile, governments will need to implement policies making clear how they will use this data.

Barriers in the journey towards self-care

Emil believes that traditions of reflection, self-care and community guidance that stretch back millennia have been somewhat lost in the social media age.

Now we measure our self-worth through external validation, such as social media comments, shares and likes.

We have all this data, but what has it taught us about ourselves?

MindBank AI enables people to take a journey of personal development.

Emil Jimenez

Emil says:

“We’re trying to create the dashboard of the human. This is your Google Analytics. How do you optimise to become a better human being?

“Let’s say you’re sick and you need a doctor. You can say, here’s my MindBank for the last year, let’s talk about it. It becomes a data driven process which gives them a point of reference, which in the past they never had.”

Data and ethics

Technology is moving on at such a pace that ethics are struggling to keep up.

Many players have a stake in this space and it’s inevitable that some with use data ethically while others will not.

Derek observes that Millennials and Gen Z have different priorities to previous generations, with many looking for purpose and meaning in their work.

What impact could this have on the digital space? Who’s going to design the next thing for generations whose needs are different?

Dr Derek Richards

Derek says:

“In olden days, we had community, we had shared stories which gave purpose, community and collective purpose. A lot of that has been eroded for different reasons.

“How do we get that back for generations coming forward?”

Digital – help or hinderance?

Pete notes that much of the digital technology we have today was developed by people who don’t really understand the human psyche.

These technologies are often created by white, middle-aged men who are not the victims of ableism, racism and other prejudices propagated by social media.

We don’t want new mental health solutions to exacerbate this.

Pete says:

“If you think about it, we’re 20 years into this weird experiment right now. And 20 years in the grand scale of humanity is not a huge amount of time. We are just learning as we go.

“But we have to be very, very careful about what we’re doing, because we are seeing a huge amount of harm being created for very vulnerable people, not just teenagers, but very vulnerable adults as well, because of the behaviour that technology is creating within us.”


Digital health presents a huge opportunity to personalise mental health services.

It all comes down to connection, Phil says.

Phil Worms

Phil Worms

“How can we use technology to connect an individual to somebody else that has perhaps got the power to help them or has even lived through those experiences? The whole point about personalisation is recognising that we are all different. There is no blanket approach.”

Emil opens up about a friend’s suicide.

She may have been trying to deal with her issues on her own and perhaps things could have turned out differently if she’d had the right support at the right time.

Emil says that digital health tools should be about giving people control over their mental health (or mental strength), and helping them to develop resilience.

Improving access to services

There’s a significant lack of human capital to address the current mental health crisis across the globe, Tom says.

He believes that we need more tools to help us overcome this, through digital and other avenues.

Thomas Tsang

“I also think there is a huge role for technology to create efficiencies, especially operational efficiencies within the system.”

One obvious benefit of digital is that it helps achieve volume, Derek says. But while more people are accessing services, it’s still the same type of people. It’s yet to cross cultural barriers.

“We’ve seen the potential to increase access. But we haven’t managed to reach those more vulnerable, really in-need individuals, the ones who say ‘I’ll deal with it myself.’

“If we can develop responsive to need transactions into the future, we may get there.”

The link between mental health and physical health

Adam believes that mental health and physical health are one and the same and by linking the two together, we can fight some of the stigma.

He gives the example of his company’s Mentally Tough campaign featuring volunteers from a children’s taekwondo class.

For every board that they broke, $5 was donated to a mental health charity.

So rather than being driven by sadness and sympathy, the model encourages resilience and strength.

Adam notes that social media apps are often looked at through a negative lens. However, there are apps that can achieve positive health goals through a community platform.

Adam Pieczonka

Adam says:

“Strava is a community of runners, cyclists and triathletes, and they’re sharing their daily routine and building community that way.

“If we stop separating mental health from physical health, and start promoting an avenue of becoming mentally healthy by being physically strong, a lot of problems will naturally solve themselves.”


Tim believes that there’s still a long way to go to crack engagement and make progress in the mental health space.

He says that we need a blended approach of new digital solutions and using digital to access existing, evidence-based therapies.

Tim says:

“Digital, from our perspective, is really helping to personalise care in that space.

“When you look at the prescription of therapy within the NHS, the dropout rate of three to four sessions is so different to what we see in our service.

Tim Dunn

“I think that’s partly due to that ability to get someone the care they need really early using the right type of solution.

“I’m fascinated about how the digital platforms and teams are cracking that engagement piece on the front end and improving the preventative side of things.”

Final thoughts


“The ecosystem hasn’t quite yet figured out the right reimbursement model that would take into account traditional fee-for-service, achieving outcomes and really thinking about how the patient would benefit.

“Secondly, when you have a digital environment, the boundaries are limitless. If licensing issues can be removed, that could be a miracle for the ecosystem to provide better access.”


“If somehow we can get the level of trust that we have for GPs onto a digital stage, we will make huge progress in the use of digital to overcome healthcare problems.”


“It goes back to access and making sure that what we’re building is engaging with individuals and giving them the right access to the right solutions.

“An evidence base behind those solutions is really, really important, too. Mental health is a really, really complex area.”

Continue Reading


  1. Pingback: Digital therapeutic anxiety app Resony receives regulatory approvals

  2. Pingback: Mentally Tough celebrates strength and resilience | Health Tech World

  3. Pingback: Headspace acquires mental health and wellness platform Shine

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Trending stories