At HRW, maintaining and improving mental health is part of our mission statement. To keep to this central goal and to upskill on psychiatric disorders, Alexandra Petrache, Senior Behavioural Science Analyst (HRW Shift) and member of HRW Synapse, attended the European Conference on Mental Health in Lisbon.

Read on the learn more about Alex’s experiences and how the landscape is shifting to help break down the stigma surrounding mental health.  

I was delighted to attend the European Conference on Mental Health in Lisbon (14 – 16 September 2022). The conference was packed with insightful sessions from dedicated speakers and seven parallel sessions to choose from outside of the key lectures! The wealth of information meant it was difficult to prioritise among the different sessions, but I decided to focus on the following:  

– Digital therapy
– Drug advances and management (including self-management) of psychiatric disorders
– Ill mental health experiences in emerging adults and in ethnic populations
– Non-pharmacological treatments for depression
Patient-HCP joint healthcare decisions 

Here, I will discuss my learning of the first and last topics (although please reach out if you are interested in the others!) 


Digital therapy- future proofing our treatments?

Prof. Raymond Bond (Ulster University) discussed the intersection between people and technology, and how smartphone apps aimed at improving mental health can help “future proof” treatments; for younger generations there is an increased trend for texting versus calling, so it may feel more natural to ‘text’ someone on a mental health app versus directly speaking to someone.  

During the lecture, he spoke about how digital tools can help collect user data to feed into “digital prevention” of ill mental health- similar to how we brush teeth to prevent decay, we can aim to uncover and utilise patterns in customer use to help indicate when mental health interventions are likely to be the most effective. For example, we may find out that users prefer utilising the mental health app at certain times of the day and need certain prompts/helpful messages to encourage usage of a mental health app.  

Prof. Bond did caveat that digital therapy does not replace human medical assistance. He stressed the importance of having provisions in place to direct users to specialised medical care, should that be required. On the other side, he mentioned the fact that digital therapy lacks a direct human component could help to reduce the stigma associated with asking for help with one’s mental health. Having a digital component to therapy would allow this to be broken down (i.e., you are more anonymised) and could allow for more open and honest discussions about how one is feeling. 

Thinking broadly, we know that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to the treatment of mental health disorders: each patient presents differently and needs a careful tailor-made approach. Ultimately, the emerging insight that cascaded throughout the talks on digital therapy was the power of incremental gains- one form of digital therapy may not be enough to produce significant results on its own but combined with other forms of therapy and indeed with other forms of digital therapy, it can make a difference.


Patient-HCP joint healthcare decisions:

Looking elsewhere at human interactions, Dr Karishma Jivraj (UCL/University of Northampton) spoke of the necessity of shared decision-making between HCPs and patients in the context of antipsychotic medication.

Involving the patient in decision-making regarding their treatment and subsequent management of their condition can be empowering for them. This could also increase the likelihood of treatment buy-in and adherence, which in turn may improve treatment outcomes.  

From a behavioural science perspective, this talk was particularly insightful. Involving patients in decisions related to their health draws on co-creation and the generation effect, whereby we are better at remembering things we were involved in more so than those that are told to us by others or that we read (e.g., a treatment plan).  

We know that adherence and patient buy-in to treatment can be a key challenge in some mental health disorders (e.g., schizophrenia). Although not always possible, this talk reinforced the importance of a good HCP-patient relationship and patient buy-in to help with treatment adherence and better long-term outcomes.    


Final thoughts

Overall, the experience was both enriching and enlightening due to the wealth of knowledge I gained across various psychiatric conditions.  

If you would like to know more about the talks attended, or have a business problem for our neuroscience experts, please contact the Synapse team at hrw_synapse@hrwhealthcare.com.


 By Alexandra Petrache 

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