The future of mental health is here — already.
For the last twenty years I’ve been thinking about the future of mental health. I was thinking about it in the 90’s when I sat every year on the selection panel for Mind’s mental health in the media awards. One year we were submitted — and had to watch — a shocking documentary about Hitler, bizarrely put forward as a positive representation of mental health in an award low that hasn’t yet been surpassed. Since those days representation of mental health in the media has massively improved. Those with diagnoses and lived experience are at the heart of representation in a way they have never been before.
In fact, we have moved beyond that. Mental health is something we all recognise that we have.
So now we get it — we’ve all got mental health, not just one in four of us, the most important stat is 1 in 1.
It does however leave us with a problem.
If we’ve all got mental health, who are the experts? Who is really qualified to speak in this field? And if we are to deliver mental health at scale on digital platforms, who is best placed to make good mental health tech?
Mental health is multi-disciplinary, talking about mental health takes a whole culture. We can talk philosophically, scientifically, creatively, systemically, we can talk about cultural phenomena which drive poor mental health or increase wellbeing. We can talk about habit formation and the drivers of engagement on digital platforms.
Professor Miranda Wolpert, head of the Wellcome Trust mental health priority area, says she is looking for “plexologists” to solve mental health, people who can move seamlessly between disciplines, make conversations happen, consider a multi angled approach.
Crucially, the need is there for people with lived experience of using services and of the experience of being labelled, having been given a diagnosis, and the identity shift that that causes, to shape the future of mental health.
Coming from a background as a mental health tech entrepreneur with lived experience of bipolar, I know the importance of listening to mental health stories, working in a multidisciplinary way, and the critical role that people with personal expertise play.
As the service user movement used to say, when it was the service user movement,
“Nothing about us without us”
The service user movement is no longer the ghetto that it once was. Now that we’re moving to 1 in 1, we need to think and have answers about what it is to embed user experience at the heart of new solutions, particularly tech ones, designed to deliver at scale. The question of who is the audience still stands, and we are better off designing products for niche populations by demographics and life stage than by broad definitions of need.
The fundamental change is to move from an experience of ‘othering’, whether that is to ‘other’ people with a mental health diagnosis, or to ‘other’ users, test users of tech.
Treating people like objects, whether they are mental health service users, or users of tech, is not acceptable.
Users are people too.
As people who care about and advocate for positive futures for mental health, we need to respect people. Even when we are nudging their behaviour in healthy, more mentally skilled directions. The future of mental health is multi disciplinary and it needs to be a flat platform, an even democracy. People across all demographics need the habits of good mental health. On top of that we need to design for extreme users and populations, then the product will work for the mainstream.
The future of mental health — it’s here already. It’s the army of experts. It’s the 1 in 1.