Written by: Claire Pfarr

August 11, 2023

Can digital mental health really work? Since the pandemic, there’s been a massive global telehealth adoption. In fact, according to a recent New York Times article, nearly 40% of all outpatient mental health and substance use therapy sessions are conducted remotely. And while therapy via telehealth seems like a no-brainer, what about other mental health treatments and experiences? There’s no shortage of mental health apps on the market. Can they really change people’s lives and make material improvements in their mental health?

New mental health technologies

There are a lot of mental health apps and services available on the market. Some you’ve probably heard of, and some you haven’t. Headspace is a popular app that focuses primarily on meditation, which can be a great tool for mental health. Apps like Talkspace and Betterhelp connect patients with therapists for one-on-one sessions, via synchronous or asynchronous messaging. The Calm app provides meditation content along with sleep stories to help people unwind and rest. 

The latest on digital mental health

While investors and tech companies seem to be all in on digital mental health, some experts are skeptical. As a recent article in Fortune noted, “Unlike digital health companies, success and failure in health care incumbents aren’t judged by their latest valuation (promise), but by life, death, patient results, and costs (value). Promise and value seldom arrive at the same time in health care–and digital health’s promise is still far from realized.” 

But for those focused on mental health specifically, there is hope. The Fortune article also noted that there are a growing number of digital therapeutics developed to address mental health. The article cites video games developed for children with ADHD or apps that deliver cognitive behavioral therapy for people with physical conditions like bowel disease, heart disease, or diabetes. Because digital therapeutics are more cost effective (easy to scale and lacking in extensive training requirements), the ability to help improve mental health is real. 

But not everyone is skeptical. Employers have a vested interest in their employees’ mental health–to save on healthcare costs to keep employees happy, healthy, and productive at work. A recent McKinsey & Company article highlighted the fact that particularly when it comes to mental health, digital solutions are attractive to employers because of their accessibility, convenience, ease of use, and anonymity. This helps avoid the stigma that often hinders employees from seeking mental health services. It also helps encourage people to seek help sooner and promote better outcomes. 

So what’s next for digital mental health?

It’s a safe bet that in light of its affordability, accessibility, and ability to remove stigma and other blockers to mental health, digital mental health is only going to grow and advance. While it remains imperfect, (and let’s face it–so does traditional, in-person mental health sometimes), offerings will only get better with time. A recent article published by Deloitte mentioned something we at Circles are really excited about–leveraging technology to enhance the social aspect of mental health and ways for people to personalize their experience: “Finding ways to integrate socialization and network support into the user experience may increase app stickiness and integrate desirable community and connection interventions into the oft-isolating state of poor mental health.”

We couldn’t agree more. At Circles, it’s always been in our DNA to connect people with others who have shared experiences. Beyond just therapy, meditation, or digestible resources like podcasts and articles, Circles focuses on people helping people in a group setting. We also recently launched direct messaging capability to promote that next level of mental health support–growing a community where people can rely on each other, and not just on a piece of technology or an expensive therapist. The Deloitte article called for organizations to “engage in corporate social responsibility efforts to increase well-being and improve access to care.”

That’s what we’re here for! Our experts and facilitators have been there, and they’ll share their experiences creating spaces for everyone to feel comfortable with others who can truly relate. Download the app to start your journey to better mental health today!