Simon Miller discusses pressures on NHS mental health, the knock-on impact to employers, providers and insurers, and how platforms such as Headspace can help.
It is common knowledge that the NHS is under such immense pressure that waiting lists for mental health support are currently more than 12 weeks, and that can be just for a first mental health professional conversation.
Waiting lists for treatments are even longer, and members of the public could be facing delays of up to a year.
In the UK alone, NHS waiting lists for access to mental health services have reached record levels with up to 1.2 million Brits currently awaiting community mental health support.
Not only that, but the mental health sector remains cripplingly underfunded amidst a surge in demand, and with this cost implication comes a shortage of resources.
This is where we must look to cost effective digital mental health solutions as part of future treatment plans.
While virtual technology, such as Babylon Health and AsKMyGp, has been available for a number of years, it was not until the pandemic that digital healthcare solutions began to be embraced and integrated by healthcare providers and payors, and thus become more frequently used by consumers.
However, this technology still remains under utilised specifically in the mental health space, where it can be argued, it will make the biggest impact.
The fundamental challenge being the focus at point of need rather than preventative solutions.
There’s no shortage of scientific evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of a meditation and mindfulness routine on mental health.
Apps such as Headspace brought guided meditation to the masses with over 40 published studies showing the benefits and favourable outcomes of using the app.
For example, after only 10 days of Headspace, individuals saw a 16 per cent increase in positivity.
It was also shown to reduce negative emotions and sadness by 28 per cent and reduce stress by 14 per cent.
Not only that, but in another study with NHS staff looking at the effectiveness of reducing health care worker stress, those who used the app reported a reduction in stress (21 per cent), depression (24 per cent) and anxiety (30 per cent) after a 4.5 month test period, and self-compassion increased by 13 per cent.
While this data is encouraging, meditation and mindfulness solutions alone are clearly not enough to solve the global mental health crisis.
But to those on waiting lists, those who are in between appointments or those recovering, evidence-based self-care can play an important roles – both for mental health conditions and other comorbidities where physical and mental health are so tightly linked to both cause and effect.
Delayed access to treatment can have a hugely detrimental effect on those in need, which in turn leads to further demands on an already struggling system.
The business model and treatment options currently in place are not sustainable given the increased demands on our services.
It is imperative that we look to long-term, scalable and cost-effective solutions that deliver the right care to the right people at the right time in an accessible and inclusive way.
This is especially relevant now, as one in eight people across the world suffer from a mental health disorder.
The case for funding digital preventive mental health solutions should be clear, but, as with preventive care more generally, health systems and payors are not always as forward looking as they could be – partly because of the pressure to solve for the more instantly measurable here and now.
One possible solution is employer health plans.
Companies are increasingly seeing the multiple benefits of investing in this, which include lower absenteeism, increased productivity (which provides a direct return on investment), but also improved attraction and retention rates.
Over a third (40 per cent) of Brits say that having access to mental health benefits 24/7 is the most important feature on offer from employers.
While 86 per cent of employers agree that mental health benefits are key to recruiting new talent, the offer is not currently on the table at every employer across the UK.
Employees expect more from their employers today than ever before including more holistic wellbeing benefits to support them in and outside of work, with the distinction becoming increasingly blurred for many.
A comprehensive Headspace Workforce Attitudes Report conducted earlier this year revealed that one in three British workers feel their employer isn’t doing enough to support their mental health, and over half (63 per cent) admit they missed at least one day of work over a 12 month period due to stress, anxiety, or other mental health challenges.
Burnout is real within industries – and while there is a robust list of digital clinical solutions in-market, the Headspace International Care offering is there to support healthcare providers with a cost-effective, stepped approach designed with an emphasis on prevention.
This digital-first service offers a 100 per cent scalable approach that can be tailored to individual needs.
For many, the entry to mental healthcare through the much-loved Headspace app acts as a soft introduction to coaching and therapy which may previously have been seen as something ‘not for me’.
There is significant financial upside for companies using this solution with cost effective sub-clinical support through coaching leveraged to maximum benefit, reserving clinical solutions for those that really need it.
Of the existing members using our stepped care model, 80 per cent have their needs fully met via coaching and content, with an average 4.85/5 satisfaction with our coaches.
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