It’s no secret that the pandemic exacerbated the need for mental health resources for many of us. Simultaneously, there is a shortage of mental health professionals able to meet true patient demand. In fact, an American Psychological Association analysis estimates that for everyone who needs support to have it, we’d need to add 20,220 more psychologists by 2030, above the baseline estimated need of 101,120 – and those estimates were published in 2018.
We simply don’t have enough people to help all the people who need help. And addressing these needs is not a one-size-fits-all approach: A full 55% of employees in the U.S. workforce are languishing somewhere on the spectrum of needing some level of mental health support, according to SilverCloud Health’s 2021 Employee Mental Health and Wellbeing Checkup.
With that in mind, I’d like to share some of the basics about mental health support, as well as how best to begin to take the right steps toward ensuring healthier and happier communities despite the shortage we face in mental health professionals.
Measure Your Mental Health
We can’t fix what we don’t measure, right? But how many are actually measuring the aspects of their lives they seek to fix with meditation apps, New Year’s resolutions and the like? When it comes to getting results, mental health is no exception to the rule that measurement is critical to improvement.
Just as one might get regular blood tests to set a baseline of physical health and to help their clinician monitor for changes, two common health screenings, the PHQ-9 and GAD-7, exist to help set mental health baselines and measure change over time. Recent emphasis on the coordination of physical and mental health care means more patients are now receiving these screenings as part of routine physical exams. And just as we are sure to watch our cholesterol or salt intake — often under the supervision of a clinician or a guided program —we should be sure to tend to our mental health needs under the proper supervision.
As with any health consideration, setting goals, tracking progress and understanding the tangible outcomes are key factors to an individual’s motivation. But they also are indicators to your support system – be it a mental health professional or a clinically backed digital program – whether the method in use is working or needs adjusting. Collected at scale across individuals, a mental health professional or program can use these measurements to inform future patients and program users, impacting not only the person currently seeking help, but also those to come. Ultimately, what this style of measure-treat-measure therapy allows for is proven outcomes.
Get the Right Support to Make the Changes Your Health Needs
Many are familiar with the concept of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a practice used by psychologists to help individuals learn to identify and cope with mental health challenges – in essence, to become their own therapists. And science has shown that while these skill sets can be taught, learned and internalized with human support, they also can be taught, learned and internalized with the support of a clinically informed digital therapeutics program – often with similar impact on a person’s measured mental health symptoms. This form of CBT, provided through the internet or a mobile device and used by a handful of clinically informed digital therapeutics, is referred to as internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT).
Digital therapeutics – defined here as “software programs with evidence-based therapeutic capabilities rooted in behavior change” – are offered or even prescribed by some employers, universities, health plans and health systems, and can be used ahead of, apart from or in conjunction with traditional in-person or virtual discussion with a mental health professional, depending on the situation at hand. These programs serve as a scalable mental health intervention, as well as a cost-effective one. In fact, SilverCloud’s eight-week internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy program has a proven return on investment when amortized over just one year.
In some instances, digital therapeutics can serve as an early intervention for someone who might not be able to access a mental health professional in person, either due to cost or to a lack of practitioners accepting new patients. The anonymity and low barriers to entry also may be desirable for people who don’t like the idea of “seeing a therapist,” or whose living situations don’t allow for the privacy they’d like to voice their concerns out loud. For people with more severe mental health conditions, digital therapeutics can complement and coexist with face-to-face therapy as a form of reinforcement between visits, or serve as a valuable interim resource for those on a mental health professional’s waitlist.
- 12% improvement in medical costs and productivity if they measurably address mild or moderate anxiety or depression
- 19%-21% improvement in medical costs and productivity if they improve moderate to severe anxiety or depression
As health organizations, leaders and human beings, it’s critical that we recognize what we have to gain from improving collective mental health. In doing so, a healthier, happier and more productive community could be just a click away.