Managing the surge in demand for online mental health platforms

For young people in particular, there is a need to educate on how to properly use these digital tools

The use of digital platforms and services for mental health support has grown in popularity in recent years, in part because of anxiety left by Covid-19. For younger generations in particular, who spend so much time online, there is a need to educate on how to properly use these digital tools.

Psychologist Dr John Francis Leader, who specialises in the intersection of psychology and technology, says two things must happen: we need to have tools and support available; and a form of psychoeducation – knowledge of psychology and the mind – that will educate people on how to use these tools.

Dr Leader works as a liaison for mental health within the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations and mentions a report from the European Commission about mental health in Europe. It highlights that the cost of non-action on mental health is significant and forecasted to rise even more. In 2019, more than 7 per cent of people in the European Union suffered from depression and 13 per cent felt lonely most of the time. Those numbers increased during 2020, with the loneliness percentage increasing to 26 per cent in some regions.

Dr Leader says we should “not be seeing mental health as being the exception. More kind of seeing mental health just as ‘health’.” He advocates for a more psychosocial approach to making mental health normalised, positive and proactive for young communities. “It’s going to make it much more comfortable to access. It will make it easier for you to talk about it.”


Dr Camille Nadal, a postdoctoral research fellow at Trinity College Dublin (Adapt Centre), says the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated digital mental healthcare. “Many services and therapists started offering remote therapy sessions and online mental health support. We also saw a surge in the demand for digital therapies platforms.” She says it was greatly beneficial for those who have difficulty travelling to their mental healthcare provider, have caregiver responsibilities or mobility issues.

There is a rapid evolving landscape of mental health support available online and on mobile devices. “Some digital platforms and apps are developed with the collaboration of clinicians, trialled and validated with patients. That’s the case of the SilverCloud platform, rolled out by the HSE [Health Service Executive] since last November in Ireland,” says Dr Nadal. Although digital platforms facilitate larger access for mental health support, there are still many challenges people might face: the urban-rural divide, lower digital literacy, poor internet connection, among others.

PhD candidate at University College Dublin, alongside youth mental health group Jigsaw, Maria Tibbs says there are two pressing challenges for young people (primarily those aged 12-25) seeking mental health support: waiting times and financial barriers. “Aside from Camhs [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services] and Amhs [Adult Mental Health Services], there are limited services offering cost-free care, presenting a significant obstacle for young people who are not yet on their feet financially,” says Tibbs. Additionally, she mentions poor mental health literacy as “a key barrier to seeking support for your mental health”, and online content of mental healthcare brings beneficial awareness to users.

Aspects that attract users to seek these digital options for mental healthcare are anonymity, for example, allowing users to be open about their feelings. It is “out there, readily available, and often free. It also exists in various shapes and forms with different level[s] of interaction involved,” says Dr Nadal.

There is a range of available services for digital mental health support available for people to use in their mental health journey. Tibbs says some of them “cater to diverse needs and preferences”, including the SilverCloud programme, text-based interventions such as Text 50808 and Jigsaw Live Chat.