Mental illness has attracted considerable media attention and celebrity endorsement over the last year. Current provision of services across the UK is considered “patchy” due to a fragmented system, rising demand and a reduction of 6,000 skilled mental health workers since 2010 (NHS England). A review by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) earlier this year, found that current mental health services for young people were “putting young people’s lives at risk”.

Although the current government has pledged to “make mental health a priority” by increasing funding, the introduction of digital technology in healthcare has the huge potential to reinvent its delivery. Games technology has generated significant global revenues and are modifying rapidly due to considerable developments in artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

As these technologies continue to become more affordable, they could provide alternative preventative, diagnosis and treatment strategies for people suffering across a broad spectrum of mental illnesses. At a time of economic uncertainty, the implementation of such digital tools to aid the delivery of established treatment options has the potential to add significant value to both the young patient and the healthcare system.

The Digital Healthcare and Healthy Living Task Force, at the National Centre for Universities and Business was set up to lead developments within areas of digital health technologies. Working in collaboration with the NHS, universities ‘Big 5’ Consultancy firms, innovation agencies such as Big Radical and industry bodies, we sought to gain an insight into the epidemic of mental health disease in the young but to establish an understanding of the current innovation and challenges of implementation to clinical practice.

Current evidence from the Mindtech Collective suggests that digital games add additional benefit to current treatment regimens amongst young people, prompting research calls by the Wellcome Trust, amongst others. With some foundations laid and small funding streams appearing, a useful next step would be to integrate these digital therapies into training pathways for mental health specialists. This will give them the best chance of becoming established in every day clinical practice.

In parallel, developing NICE guidelines, NHS-accreditation and regulation will ensure that digital gaming for mental health remains cemented in clinical best practice and safety. Finally, by establishing buying frameworks and setting up ‘’-style, collaborathons and hackathons suppliers and innovators can gain access to the wide and varied market of healthcare providers who can support pilots to build a strong evidence base – bringing real collaboration between Universities, Business and the NHS.

By Co-Chair of the Digital Health and Care Task Force, Beverley Bryant