In our increasingly interconnected world, digital technology permeates our personal lives, work environments, and healthcare systems. From social media to Artificial Intelligence (AI), these advancements offer both opportunities and risks to mental well-being and the mental health care domain.

Social media and mental health

The online world can be a tool that gives people greater access to protective factors for mental health, such as a sense of community, information, and support during challenging times. At the same time, social media can present risks for mental health, such as promoting unattainable beauty standards, fostering addiction and glamourisation of mental health issues. Mounting research has revealed the pernicious ways in which social media platforms capitalise on the specific vulnerabilities of the youngest in society.

Mental Health Europe calls for human rights (especially those of children and young people) to be considered by default and by design in the digital environment. A two-fold path of action is needed: efforts to strengthen digital literacy and fostering supportive offline environments, alongside enforcing responsibilities on online platforms. These platforms must refrain from utilising manipulative and harmful methods aimed at capturing and retaining users’ attention, necessitating a fundamental change on the design features of their platform.

The Digital Revolution in Mental Health Care

The pandemic accelerated the integration of digital technologies into mental health systems, ushering in a wave of innovative solutions. From telehealth and mental health apps to wearables and artificial intelligence, a myriad of tools has emerged, offering unprecedented avenues for assessment, support, and care. However, this surge raises concerns about profit-driven models in an industry yet to be adequately regulated.

Opportunities and Risks in Digitalisation

While digitalisation presents opportunities for broader access to care and intervention for specific demographics like adolescents, concerns linger about the quality and equity of these interventions. Privacy and data security issues, along with disparities in access and skills, remain significant risks within digital mental health interventions.

In order to sway the balance towards the opportunities, a robust regulatory framework is required. Crucially, Mental Health Europe’s report on digitalisation highlights the necessity for countries and the EU to craft policies and regulations that maximise the leveling opportunities digitalisation offers while mitigating risks—especially for marginalised groups or people in vulnerable situations. ‘Safety & Quality’, ‘Equity’, and ‘Going beyond technology: framing mental health in a bigger picture’ emerge as pivotal priorities for shaping EU and national policies and regulations.

Human Rights at the Forefront

Digital technologies, if not adequately regulated, have the potential to amplify existing human rights concerns in mental health care.

At Mental Health Europe, we advocate a shift from a technology-centric view to a people-centric approach in digital mental health. Emphasising co-creation and human rights as guiding principles, we stress the importance of collaborative decision-making involving all stakeholders. This approach ensures that technological advancements align with real needs and promote a society where everyone can enjoy their human rights.

Concrete Actions for Quality, Equity, and Privacy

To ensure the efficacy and safety of digital mental health technologies, governments and healthcare providers should fund and endorse solutions based on stringent evidence. Addressing equity concerns involves subsidising equipment, supporting internet access, and enhancing digital literacy. Upholding users’ privacy demands both technical solutions and normative interventions.

Avoiding Techno-Solutionism

We caution against viewing digital technologies as a panacea for complex societal issues. Mental health problems require not just individual fixes but structural actions addressing socio-economic and environmental factors. Policymakers must resist oversimplified technological solutions and recognise the multifaceted nature of mental health.

True innovation in mental health care goes beyond technological advancements; it lies in our approach to community-based care. Co-creation, rooted in collaboration and understanding, stands as a transformative path forward.

Reframing Digitalisation: A Means to an End

Mental Health Europe advocates a shift in perspective, viewing digitalisation not as an ultimate goal but as a tool toward a mentally healthier society, bolstering autonomy in managing mental health and improving the provision of mental health care services. The focus should pivot from technology itself to the beneficiaries and those potentially adversely affected by these advancements.

Our vision for European countries emphasises adopting a psychosocial model for mental health. A value-driven human rights approach serves as a central guideline, promoting inclusive governance. Mental Health Europe calls for meaningful engagement of users in the development, design, and implementation of technology, ensuring that digital advancements meet genuine needs.

A Call to Action for All Stakeholders

Join Mental Health Europe in navigating the complexities of digitalisation to pave the way for a future where technology serves as a tool for enhancing mental well-being and upholding human rights for all.

Explore our report: Digitalisation in Mental Health

Discover more by reading our report:

For more information related to digalisation and mental health, contact Francesca Centola:

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