Psyche online – Opportunities and risks of digitalisation

In Germany, more and more people are using medical services for mental illness. This poses great challenges for the health care system. Internet-based interventions offer opportunities to counteract the current health care shortages – as long as they are based on scientifically recognised psychotherapeutic techniques and fulfil safety standards.

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Smartphones, tablets and computers have become people’s constant companions. Thanks to newly developed applications they are also entering the health care system. As low-threshold location- and time-independent treatment alternatives, such applications represent a valuable addition to regular care. The offerings have multiplied, particularly in the field of mental health.

Internet-based interventions – also referred to as e-mental health products – can help reduce symptoms and decrease stress in various phases of the illness. The spectrum of applications includes universal and targeted prevention for risk groups, psychotherapeutic internet interventions to bridge waiting times – as a complement to traditional methods – and relapse prevention after completion of treatment.

In some European countries these programmes are already well-established components of standard care. In Germany, however, the spread of e-mental health products is limited because of a lack of expense reimbursement and uncertainties in interpreting the rules of professional conduct for medical treatment and psychotherapy.

Nevertheless, the internet already offers a multitude of options to treat mental illness symptoms, making it difficult to navigate the market. Many internet-based interventions have good efficacy, particularly in the treatment of depressions and anxiety disorders. However, every effective treatment has side effects and internet-based programmes are no exception. These risks need to be further researched and communicated. A task force on internet psychotherapy, set up the DGPPN and DGPs, has therefore presented criteria that can help doctors, psychotherapists and, last but not least, users to choose effective and worthwhile interventions.

Against this background, the DGPPN and the Coalition for Mental Health (“Aktionsbündnis Seelische Gesundheit”) are involved in the transnational project eMEN. The name eMEN stands for “e-mental health innovation and transnational implementation platform North-West Europe”. The project is supported by Interreg and thus part of the European Union’s structural and investment policies for European territorial collaboration. The funding amount is 3.22 million euros.

The project is headed by the Netherlands, one of the forerunners in the field of e-mental health, and supported by partners in Belgium, France, Ireland, Great Britain and Germany who contribute their respective technological, clinical, scientific and political expertise. The project thus creates an international e-mental health network. eMEN wants to bring together people with mental health problems and their caregivers, doctors, psychologists and members of other health and social professions, small and medium-sized companies, developers of e-mental health technologies and of course political and other public decision makers. The eMEN project is thus a promising combination of e-mental health activities in science, product development, policy consultations and public communication.

Aims of eMEN
  • To create the opportunity to network and hold international discussions on e-mental health at 24 international events (6 conferences and 18 seminars in 6 partner countries).
  • To develop a new, cost-effective and fast evaluation method and standardised tests to prove the quality and efficacy of e-mental health products
  • To further develop and evaluate at least 5 existing e-mental health products (for depression, anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders)
  • To arrange for 15 small- to medium-sized companies to receive support and advice from e-mental health developers in the 6 partner countries
  • To establish a transnational cooperation platform for knowledge, innovation, development, testing, implementation and exchange of implementation expertise in e-mental health
  • To draft international policy recommendations for the implementation of quality-assured e-mental health measures in the participating countries.
Past eMEN events

12 October 2017: First eMEN event in Germany

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