Since 2015 Mental Health Reform (MHR) has been exploring the role of technological innovation and in particular e-mental health initiatives to address key mental healthcare challenges in Ireland. In that time numerous key stakeholders, including the HSE, began also to explore the potential of e-mental health initiatives. This is evidenced in the increasing role of digital mental health envisaged in Sharing the Vision.
However, the unprecedented occurrence of the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the narrative and context around e-mental health. Government announcements in March 2020 on restrictions to curb the pandemic meant that innovation was accelerated overnight and digital solutions soon became the reality across all three sectors of the ecosystem – public, private and voluntary/non-profit. The rapid switch to digitally based mental health services opened up the potential benefits of e-mental health initiatives for both providers and people accessing mental health services. Discussion has already begun on exploring hybrid models of care embedding e-mental health services as part of traditional pathways. This has been accompanied with a focus on the choice for service users and the challenges for many in accessing digital services.
Given this rapid change, it is important to take a moment of reflection to examine the growing role of digital mental health services within the bigger picture of mental healthcare reform in Ireland. In particular, what policy frameworks are needed to ensure quality-assured services for those accessing the supports. MHR has developed this paper as a starting point for discussions.
This paper provides an analysis aiming to encourage and support development of a policy framework to address digital mental health as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is relevant both for implementation of Sharing the Vision and in the wider Sláintecare context.