F004 Tackling mental health with digital health?


While de-stigmatisation is improving, mental health issues are not only serious but impossible to imagine for those that have never experienced them.

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Mental health is a broad and complex area of research. By the definition of WHO mental health disorders are generally characterized by some combination of abnormal thoughts, emotions, behaviour and relationships with others. Examples are schizophrenia, depression, intellectual disabilities and disorders due to drug abuse.

Globally, an estimated 300 million people are affected by depression.

Bipolar affective disorder affects about 60 million people worldwide.

And those are just the most known ones.


Richard J. Davidson and Sharon Begley explain what happens in the brain during a depression in the book The emotional life of your brain: Left prefrontal region contributes something quite specific to our emotional life, namely, positive emotion and the ability to hold in mind the desired goal and form a plan of action to reach it. The lack of these two components is a striking symptom in depression: Many patients report that the absence of joy is even more painful than the presence of sadness, and the inability to engage in goal-directed activity is amongst the most crippling manifestations of the disease. Depressed people have little drive to accomplish goals, and they tend to lack persistence.

Not every sadness or bad day can be characterised as a mental health disorder. Challenges become a disorder when the negative thinking patterns start repeating. The repeating causes changes in the brain and changes in the brain influence thinking.


“Feedback loops are just the most powerful thing in the world”

As Marc Lewis describes in the book The biology of desire, feedback loops are just about the most powerful thing in the world. Feedback simply makes thing grow. It does not care what. Depression and anxiety develop through feedback. The more you think negative thoughts or scary thoughts, the more synapses get strung together to generate scenarios involving loneliness and danger.

Addicts take big chances, hide the distasteful things they do and hope for the best. In that respect, addiction can be seen as an extension of personality development. And it can surely be seen as self-medication, but the anxiety and shame that have to be medicated result more and more from the addiction itself.

The good news is that the brain has a high capability to reorganize. The same way as neuroplasticity causes the brain to fall into negative feedback loops, we can create a new, positive pattern.

Three speakers talk about mental health in the 4th episode of Faces of digital health podcast. All were present at the StartupHealth Festival in January 2018 in San Francisco.

  1. Dean Ornish, Clinical Professor in Medicine, President and Director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute at University of California Sans Francisco. He talks about the critical aspect of depression, which is the changes in perception that prevent a depressed person to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This short introduction is followed by a discussion with CEOs of two startups offering solutions addressing mental and behavioural health.

2. The Co-founder and CEO of PsyInnovations Ritvik Singh talks about the broadness of mental health challenges and to which extent digital solutions can help address them.


Richard Lee during the interview at StartupHealth Festival 2018

3. Richard Lee, the CEO of a startup called Bravely, believes regular 5-minute power calls with peers can have a significant positive effect on individuals wellbeing. This is what Bravely does: short, peer to peer phone support as a replacement traditional psychotherapeutic counselling.