The Covid-19 pandemic has negatively affected individuals around the world in many ways, but one of the most impactful has been in the area of mental health. The crisis has not only caused delays in the delivery of regular mental health services, but has also placed an enormous strain on the public’s mental health. Accessing mental health services has also been a challenge, given that so many people have been required to stay at home and healthcare services were at capacity with urgent care cases. Across the world, there has been an increase in mental illness and a growing gap in care as healthcare systems struggle to cope with increased pressure from the pandemic.

An individual’s mental wellbeing is one of the most important aspects to consider, especially in the wake of a pandemic. Due to recent recessions, global geopolitical turbulence and rising rates of addiction, the public’s mental health has been declining and the number of cases has been increasing. Research published in 2019 by the American Psychological Association highlighted an especially evident trend in mental health disorders among adolescents and young adults, with a 50% increase in symptom reporting for major depression from 2005 to 2017. GlobalData’s epidemiological forecasts estimate that major depressive disorder (MDD) affects almost 40% more people than previously estimated across the US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK and Japan. Global MDD prevalence is expected to increase further after the pandemic, from 53.4 million people in 2019 to 55.4 million in 2029. There is also a shortage of mental health and addiction care providers, which has left many patients struggling to access care.

As the proportion of people living with mental health conditions continues to grow, this will drive innovation in the mental health space and will lead to the increased uptake of novel digitally assisted care and diagnosis methods. In the future, GlobalData expects that there will be a diverse selection of personalised, digital tools available in the mental health space for consumers to choose from.

Internet of Things (IoT) tools such as mobile health (mHealth), which capture patient data, are expanding rapidly, with publicly available mobile apps becoming ubiquitous, alongside a large portion of the population in the US and Europe now owning smartphones. Mobile apps are particularly suited to treating mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, where stigma and a lack of self-belief act as barriers to treatment and engagement. For example, almost 8,000 medical, lifestyle or health and fitness apps are listed on the Apple and Google app stores under the non-specific terms ‘mental health’ or ‘depression’.

Many mental health telemedicine platforms have seen increases in demand since the start of the pandemic, including Teladoc Health’s Betterhelp and TheraPlatform. The average monthly traffic to Teladoc Health’s Betterhelp site was more than three million visits between October 2019 and last March. This increased to around 4.4 million visits last April. TheraPlatform is a practice management solution for teletherapy that includes video conferencing. Its website saw a monthly average of around 32,000 visits from September 2019 to last February, which increased to around 617,000 monthly visits from last March to last June.

As health expenditure increases and patients become more engaged and involved, virtual health interventions will play an important role in meeting demand. This will require a significant overhaul to ensure that integrated community and home-based medical care is available to all, with a future healthcare model focused on prevention, wellbeing and early intervention.