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Research for Recovery: Delivering Virtual Healthcare Support

by Melissa Bell
4 minutes read

Turning Challenges into Solutions through UK-based Research

COVID-19 sparked a surge in digital transformation, paving the way for technological advances and reshaping the landscape of health systems across the globe. 

Since March 2020, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has been driving solutions for post-pandemic recovery, supporting thousands of research projects and initiatives, from mental health to parenting support. Over two years on from the initial outbreak of the disease, UKRI has created a Research for Recovery Infographic illustrating the real-world impacts of these initiatives.

UKRI Covid 19 Infographic Final

Psychological and Social Impacts of COVID-19

The pandemic has had a profound impact on health and livelihoods, creating urgent new mental health care needs as COVID-related stress, anxiety and grief intensified. In the first year alone, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%, and mental health services have seen an increase in both the demand for support and in wait times to access it, with 84% of psychologists observing a rise in anxiety treatments.

Lockdown Loneliness and Anxiety

What began as a health crisis rapidly evolved into an economic emergency, with world leaders taking unprecedented action to protect the globe. Tackling the pandemic involved extensive physical isolation measures, months of school closures, social distancing, and quarantining at home, encouraging feelings of loneliness, particularly for young people. Enduring prolonged periods of isolation increases the risk of long-term depression and social anxiety exacerbated by traumatic experiences and bereavements.

A report by Young Minds found a staggering 67% of young people believed the pandemic to have had a long-term negative effect on their mental health. Concern over friendships, loss of education and uncertain prospects of finding work were the most commonly reported long-time fears.

Relieving the Pressures on Mental Health services with Artificial Intelligence-Assisted Therapy

The rise of digital mental health care has raised the clinical value of Artificial Intelligence innovation. From the early stages of the virus’ spread to the later months of social distancing practices, AI has accelerated potential treatments, forecasted future infection rates and developed initiatives harnessing big data and smartphones to meet an onslaught of unprecedented mental health challenges. 

In response to the lack of available standardised face-to-face therapy throughout lockdowns and to combat the growing feelings of loneliness and isolation, AI-powered tools were on the critical path to dominating the field of mental health therapy. Digital interventions present an opportunity to improve the efficiency of care and provide people with mental health support before a face-to-face appointment becomes available.

AI within mental health services provides a more effective and personalised treatment plan, offering more insight into patients’ needs and developing therapist techniques and training. Mental health professionals are using AI to improve the accuracy of diagnosis and treatments and are also turning to AI to help with stretched workloads.

Internet Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (iCBT) and Computerised Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (cCBT) have shown to have had a significant effect on anxiety disorders intensified by the pandemic.

The Rise of AI Chatbots

With AI and mobile technologies becoming the frontrunners to power the next generation of teletherapy and transform the future of NHS care, AI chatbots have been introduced to help patients practice CBT strategies and manage their symptoms between appointments. They help patients identify emotions, acquire new coping skills to reduce anxiety levels, improve mental resilience and are able to alert the provider when an intervention is needed.

Keeping us Connected through Tech-Powered Healthcare

500,000+ young people received mental health support through a UKRI-funded project. Digital health app and mental health platform Wysa uses an AI chatbot and a series of self-care exercises to improve teenagers’ emotional resilience and reduce anxiety levels. The app provides exercises to help people manage their mental health based on clinically-reviewed cognitive-behavioural techniques.

Wysa’s COVID-19 Adolescent support pack has been clinically assured and distributed through social channels, with thousands of young people engaging in the content. From approximately 100,000 reviews, the voice-enabled mindfulness app received a near-perfect rating from over 100 million conversations. 87% of UK adolescents found the app helpful, and young people’s perceived wellness scores increased in just two weeks of usage.

Wysa is now trialling AI in adult mental health services across the country intending to improve support for the 60% of the working population who fall into the “missing middle” of mental health.

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