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In today’s tech-driven world, the impact of digital tools on early intervention in mental well-being is profound and transformative. These tools not only offer widespread access to resources, but also embrace diversity in forms—from mindfulness apps to AI chatbots, catering to various needs and preferences. What key considerations should be taken into account when crafting tech solutions for early interventions? What insights do experts offer on this matter? We’re thrilled to share some insights from our recent event in Warsaw, where we dived into such a critical realm of digital mental wellbeing.

Criteria for Developing Digital Tools

While venture capital funding for mental health technology companies has fluctuated in recent years (up 75% in 2022 compared to 2021, and down in 2023 — on par with the decline in digital health investments), the diversity of innovative tools in the digital mental well-being industry has increased significantly. Among them, there are VR-powered therapy, biosensing technologies, AI-driven mental health platforms, etc. 

Tom Van Daele, a Clinical Psychologist and Research Coordinator in Psychology and Technology at Thomas More University of Applied Sciences, highlights the importance of reevaluating. Traditionally, the focus has been on specific disorders like depression or anxiety. However, Tom suggests a shift towards a broader perspective. Rather than targeting individual conditions, he advocates for identifying universal factors that transcend diagnostic boundaries. Factors such as resilience-building and social support can be pivotal in early intervention efforts. By embracing a holistic approach, digital tools can better address the diverse needs of individuals navigating mental well-being challenges.

Challenges in Integrating and Evaluation Criteria

There are a number of different researches highlighting that dozens of adults and youth did not receive any mental health treatment. So, digital mental health technology can help to bridge the gap by offering scalable solutions that reach a larger number of individuals, and at lower cost.

Christina Spragg, Clinical Psychologist and global Workplace Mental Wellness Consultant, highlights the potential of digital tools in symptom tracking and psychoeducation. While these tools offer valuable support, Christina cautions against viewing them as substitutes for therapy. Unlike human clinicians, machines lack clinical intuition and struggle to interpret nuanced cues from patients. Despite their utility in certain aspects, AI tools cannot replicate the depth of human interaction essential in therapeutic settings. Thus, while embracing technological advancements, it’s crucial to recognize the inherent limitations and ensure a complementary approach to mental health care.

“Digital tools can also provide guided interventions for anxiety reduction, behavioral activation strategies to reduce symptoms of depression, virtual reality exposure for overcoming phobias.  Wearable devices can be an “additional set of eyes” to track sleeping patterns, heart rate variability (which can be an indicator of stress), physical activity, and medication adherence”, — said Dr. Spragg. 

This is confirmed by research of the Journal of Medical Internet Research, for example, finding that while 70% of users reported some benefit from mental health apps, only 25% felt these tools could adequately replace face-to-face therapy sessions. This underscores the importance of human interaction in achieving deeper therapeutic outcomes​.

When evaluating the effectiveness of digital interventions, Christina emphasizes the significance of subjective experiences. Beyond objective metrics, such as physiological responses, individuals’ perceptions of improvement are paramount. Tom echoes this sentiment, emphasizing the need to acknowledge diverse responses to stress and mental health challenges. By embracing a person-centered approach, digital tools can accommodate the varied experiences and coping mechanisms of users.

DŌBRA Solution

Our studio is currently nurturing four startups, each deeply intertwined with the discourse on mental well-being. Among them is Bear Room, a mobile app dedicated to providing instant stress relief.

According to Jane Makarevich, Product Owner and Co-Founder of Bear Room at DŌBRA, more than half of respondents of the startup’s surveys aren’t aware or have any self-help tools. And when people feel under pressure, they can lead to bigger crises, for example anxiety, depression, psychosomatic disorders, etc. So a startup’s approach is based on the idea that immediate stress relief is provided by something called positive distraction. Positive distraction has been found to reduce negative emotions, disrupt rumination, and lead to increased use of positive, problem-oriented coping techniques. “These moments of respite—temporary, planned breaks from stressful experiences—play an important role in coping with stress, and ultimately help people feel refreshed and better able to cope with stressors after a reprieve. That is why we decided to work with this topic of instant stress relief to help people right here right now”, — says Jane Makarevich.

In conclusion, the journey towards effective digital interventions for mental health necessitates a multifaceted approach. By prioritizing universal factors, recognizing the limitations of technology, and valuing subjective experiences, we can develop more inclusive and impactful solutions. At DŌBRA, we remain dedicated to advancing the frontier of digital mental health interventions, guided by empathy, innovation, and a commitment to holistic well-being.