General practitioners (GPs) in the UK can now offer a ‘digital pill’ to patients with symptoms of mild to moderate depression and anxiety.
The NHS has approved Wysa, an artificial intelligence (AI) driven mental health support app, which helps deal with stress, depression, and anxiety through an ‘emotionally intelligent’ bot. The bot uses evidence-based cognitive-behavioural techniques (CBT), meditation, breathing and mindfulness exercises to help users. It can be accessed via a mobile phone or tablet.
The app is clinically safe, adhering to strict Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC) controls.
GPs want to help patients and offer talking therapy services as treatment, but often resort to medication as an interim prescription solution. In many cases, patient’s mental health symptom levels don’t qualify for Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) due to a severity mismatch, leading to their mental health to deteriorate.
Dr Farhan Amin, a GP and digital pioneer within the NHS said: “We go into the job wanting to help people, but time pressures and lack of resources mean we just can’t support people in the way we want. Patients need more support with their mental health outside of the surgery, especially with lengthy waiting times meaning access to more traditional therapies can be delayed.
“Offerings like Wysa provide 24/7 help to our patients and remove some of the admin burden and clinical time from surgery staff. Having a ‘digital pill’ that is evidence based and clinically validated will allow us to help so many more people,” Amin added.
Wysa has been rolled out across some NHS IAPT talking therapy services already.
Mental health and physical health go hand in hand
Common mental health problems like stress, anxiety and depression are often secondary comorbidities alongside many long-term physical health conditions.
Around 30 per cent of all people with a long-term physical health condition also have a mental health problem, most commonly depression and anxiety, according to the Centre for Mental Health.
Additionally, the presence of mental health issues increases the risk of chronic physical illnesses, such as obesity or diabetes.
In 2016, The King’s Fund, an independent charitable organisation working to improve health and care in England, reported that the psychological problems associated with physical health conditions, and vice versa, cost the NHS more than £11 billion a year and care is less effective than it could be.
And with mental health becoming the biggest worry for patients in the US, it is understandable why the NHS in the UK are investing.