People in England will soon be able to access online anxiety and depression therapies following guidance from health authorities.
New treatment avenue opening up
Nine online talking-therapy treatments for anxiety or depression have been given the green light to be used by the NHS in England. Such treatment platforms are said to offer faster access to help but less time with a therapist.
While this style of therapy may not suit everyone, the health body recommending them has concluded that the benefits far outweigh the negative aspects.
The decision has been brought about by the massive increase in waiting times for more traditional talking therapeutic services. There is a huge demand for face-to-face services, with people waiting several months to see a therapist, as previously reported by My Mind News.
Meanwhile, psychiatrists have warned that digital therapies were not a long-term solution. Mental-health charity Sane said they were no substitute for a one-to-one relationship, and could leave people feeling even more isolated than before.
The aim is to reduce waiting times
One out of every six people in England says they experience a common mental health problem such as anxiety and depression in any given week.
In 2021-22, more than half a million people were referred to depression and anxiety services (known as NHS Talking Therapies) for problems such as body dysmorphic disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, and a variety of phobias.
The new digital therapies, delivered via a website or an app using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), provide an alternative way of accessing support, which may be more convenient for some, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says. They could also free up resources and help reduce the wait for care.
Its guidance recommends six therapies designed to treat adults with anxiety disorders and three to treat those with depression, including therapy programs with such names as ‘Beating the Blues’, ‘Deprexis,’ and ‘Space from Anxiety.’
How does the treatment work?
Before treatment starts, there is a formal assessment with a trained clinician or practitioner. Following this initial assessment, clinicians step away, leaving trained talking therapists to take the lead in treating the patient.
During online depression therapy, 90 minutes is spent with a therapist instead of eight hours during standard care. Similarly, online anxiety therapy gives four hours with a clinician, as opposed to 10 hours under normal care
Dr David Rigby, who jointly chairs the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ digital group, said digital therapies could make it easier for some vulnerable patients to access vital mental-health support but were not a long-term solution.
Talking to the BBC, he added,
“Mental health services are struggling with chronic staff shortages which are making it difficult for them to provide patients with quick and effective treatment. The government must tackle the workforce crisis by honoring its commitment to publish a comprehensive NHS workforce plan this year.”
No substitute for one-to-one care
Sane founder and chief executive Marjorie Wallace CBE has gone on the record to say that digital therapy may be very useful for some but was no substitute for a one-to-one relationship with someone who knows their story.
“Our experience with those who contact us is that self-diagnosis and techniques of self-management do not always reach the layers of their inner mental pain and can leave them feeling even more unsafe and alone,”
In responding to the concerns raised regarding the new online therapies, NICE interim director of medical technology and digital evaluation Mark Chapman said,
“One of our priorities is to get the best care to people fast while at the same time ensuring value for money for the taxpayer – these digitally enabled therapies do both. But the choice of online therapy must be the right one for the individual.”
While some of the digital therapies are already being rolled out, others require further approvals being they can be rolled out. Regional health authorities around the country will be examining how they might capitalize on the opportunities they offer so that patients can get the support they need faster and reduce overall waiting times.
NICE will look at the evidence from their use over the next few years to work out how cost-effective they are.
What are your thoughts in terms of online therapies? Would you take up an offer of online therapeutic support, should you receive it? Tell us more in the comments.