Upcoming virtual summit of QF global health initiative to place major focus on mental health, among other pressing topics

A forthcoming WISH 2020 report titled ‘The Digital Mental Health Revolution: Transforming Care Through Innovation and Scale-Up’ claims that digital tools designed to address mental health needs are not just a future luxury for modern health systems, but an urgent necessity.

The full report will be released during the upcoming World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), which will take place virtually from 15-19 November. Working with research partners and leading experts, the WISH 2020 conference, which is free to attend, will be placing a major focus on discussing mental health in general, and especially among children and adolescents.

The new report has been produced by an international group led by Professor Helen Christensen, director and chief scientist of the Australia-based Black Dog Institute, a non-profit facility and medical research institute that investigates mental health across the lifespan, and by Dr Tom Insel, a leading American expert in mental health research, policy, and technology and co-founder and chair of Humanest Care, a clinically augmented, community-based online emotional support system.

One of the most critical health needs, mental health disorders affect one in three people worldwide at some point in their life – they are among the leading causes of disability and account for nearly eight million deaths annually (almost a million of which are by suicide). The report finds that the gap between the treatment people need and what current health systems can deliver in high-, middle- and low-income countries is currently so great that ‘only a revolution in access, quality, and engagement through technology’ can meaningfully address it.

The experience of professionals and service users during the COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened the consensus for a need to create a ‘next generation’ of digital mental health innovations. With collaboration from leading experts in digital mental health, such as Health for All’s Jonty Roland and Research Fellow Dr Emma Lawrence of Imperial College London, the new report will offer a set of policy recommendations based on case studies, exploring ways in which governments, investors, businesses, schools, and health leaders can all play a role.

Prof. Helen Christensen said that even before COVID-19 struck, mental health services were already struggling in every country. She mentioned that mental health, and drug and alcohol problems are the leading cause of disability across the world and now with COVID-19, 75% of the population is reporting psychological distress. To cope with this, massive interventions that reach millions of people are needed. She says digital interventions and digital-first services are the way to do this.

We need to bring together the digital innovations that are already in use by consumers with key insights and evidence on their effectiveness from science. Our report aims to understand the ways that digital models have worked and the ways we can best support the development of digital technologies for mental health into the future.

Among the policy briefings that will guide summit discussions in November, ‘Child and Adolescent Mental Health’ touches on barriers to the accessibility of high-quality mental health care for children and adolescents. WISH has also partnered with The BMJ, one of the world’s oldest and most cited general medical journals, on a report titled ‘Toxic Stress: Mitigating Childhood Adversity that Affects Lifelong Physical and Mental Health,’ in the hope that the evidence-based recommendations will guide researchers and policymakers in tackling this critical issue. With WISH expected to bring thousands of healthcare leaders and frontline workers into the discussion, the summit is a critical opportunity to consider robust solutions that will contribute to meeting a key UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).

The summit theme, ‘One World Our Health’, emphasises WISH’s vision to welcome all under the banner of striving for a common goal of creating a healthier world. WISH 2020 will extend over five days, and the interactive virtual format will facilitate in-depth discussion of 10 healthcare topics and evidence-based policy recommendations. Registration is open to all participants free of cost.

WISH is Qatar Foundation’s global health initiative. Besides mental health, the virtual WISH 2020 will focus on themes including climate change, sustainability, and COVID-19.

Register to attend WISH 2020 at https://2020.wish.org.qa/register/