Mental health is no longer a taboo subject.
Sports stars and celebrities are opening up about their difficulties, speaking publicly about their struggles and encouraging others to do the same.
But taking that first step of acknowledging you need help is a huge obstacle for many, even though a quarter of the UK population suffer from some sort of issue every year.
Worried about having to take time off work for appointments? Not sure you’d be able to speak about your situation face-to-face with your GP? Scared by the stigma of mental health? Maybe you want to discuss your situation but don’t feel it is serious enough to trouble a doctor with.
There is another way for people in Bridlington.
Ieso Digital Health is working in the East Riding to provide digital solutions. It is all done over the internet, using online chats, similar to ones you might use with your mobile phone company or your bank.
You make an appointment, have a weekly text conversation with a qualified therapist and you can arrange sessions for after work or weekends, without even leaving your own home.
Can it make a difference? The Free Press spoke to Rebecca Caine, clinical communications specialist at Ieso Digital Health, to find out how it works and who it can help.
What is the thinking behind the digital therapy?
We believe that technology can be utilised to make healthcare more accessible to more people. Not only this, but we also think that technology can be used to greatly improve the quality of therapy being delivered, which will improve outcomes for patients.
There are a number of different ways technology is being used in mental healthcare. Therapy delivered using Ieso’s online method of communication has been shown to as effective as traditional methods of therapy but with added benefits.
As therapy is delivered online, patients can now have therapy at a time and place of their choice, and those who may not have been able to travel to appointments are now able to receive the help they need. The use of technology also minimises waiting times for patients.
Communicating online via written conversation has been shown to have a number of therapeutic benefits for patients, including that people report often opening up about their problems sooner than in a face-to-face session.
Is there a target group you are trying to reach, who maybe wouldn’t access traditional services?
No specific target group. We are looking to increase access to mental health therapy across the board.
Our patient population consist of people of all ages and backgrounds as with all services.
However, we find that harder to reach patient groups such as those with social anxiety disorder, those who struggle to organise appointments outside of work, those with mobility problems and black and ethnic minority groups benefit from the flexible nature of online therapy.
What are the benefits of online sessions, as opposed to face-to-face appointments?
Patients are able to have therapy at a time and place of their choice.
Patients often find that the pressure of a face-to-face conversation is removed, so tend to be candid very quickly.
Therapy transcripts enable patients to re-read their sessions after – they can keep these transcripts forever, so “lightbulb” moments can be “relived” easily.
Receiving therapy via reading and writing is a very different way of processing information to speaking and listening. Patients are more likely to retain information and important details of their therapy as a result.
Transcripts are also very useful for therapists – it means that therapists can scrutinise them with their supervisor and see exactly what they did that worked and what didn’t work so well.
This means you can improve a therapist’s skills, driving up the standard of CBT and outcomes for our patients.
What has the feedback been from people who have used the service in the East Riding?
Cognitive behavioural therapy is very effective at treating people with a range of common mental health problems. We hear a lot of feedback from our patients about the sense of relief they have found having been able to talk to a qualified therapist who understands their problems and know how to help them overcome it.
People like this method of delivering therapy for a number of different reasons. Having therapy online is very convenient – people can attend appointments from a time and location of their choosing. There also tends to be a very short waiting time, unlike many other services.
Our patients often report finding it easier to open up about things in their life that face-to-face they may have found hard to talk about.
What developments could be made going forward, other conditions which could be treated in this way?
We have so far treated 14,000 patients who have presented with either depression or one of the eight anxiety disorders.
NHS England is widening the scope of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapy programme so that services will be more readily available for people who suffer from long-term health conditions such as diabetes or chronic pain.
They will also be focusing on people over the age of 65, children and young people and women in the peri-natal who are suffering from mental health problems. Ieso is currently preparing to widen access to all these groups over the next 12 months.