In this article, we dive deep into the potential relationship between the Web3 industry and digital mental health services. We define “mental health” and the differences between traditional online mental health services and Web3 mental health solutions. Plus, we critically consider the benefits and risks of the Web3 digital mental health services.

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Why Talk About Web3 and Digital Mental Health?

“Digital mental health” is an up-and-coming phrase referring to a future “norm” with accessing digital mental health services online. According to Frontiers in Digital Health Journal in September 2021; Section: Health Technology Innovation, the definition of digital mental health is “any application of digital health technology for mental health assessment, support, prevention, and treatment”. As Web3 technologies (e.g., blockchain and artificial intelligence [AI]) boast superior data security, transparency, and interoperability to existing Web2 practices, Web3 can assist in the development of reliable digital mental health services. 

However, the Digital Health Journal article clarified that there is limited evidence to support the use of digital mental health applications within a clinical setting. Also, there are no regulatory standards regarding cognitive technology, personalized neurotechnology, and digital mental health mobile apps. In turn, this yields ethical issues and concerns surrounding users’ vulnerabilities.

Over recent years, the Web3 industry has witnessed an exponential growth rate, even considering the bear markets. To learn more about this, save our “Understanding Crypto Crashes” article for later! Although we are still relatively early, the adoption rate of blockchain exceeds that of the adoption rate of the internet in the late 90s. On the other hand, the last decade has shown a tremendous decline in mental well-being across all nations, ages, and genders. Is it possible that Web3 can assist with digital mental health services to improve the overall well-being of the planet? 

Defining Mental Health

Mental health is a complex, personal, and individual phenomenon that affects every single being in humanity. Poor mental health can lead to a sense of separation in the world and a lack of joy or purpose. When negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are repeated daily, it becomes a habit. When a habit is repeated over time, it becomes part of one’s personality. At this stage, one may be diagnosed with a mental health disorder (e.g., depression, anxiety, personality disorders, etc.). Although many believe that it’s impossible to change one’s mental health state without pharmaceuticals, recent evidence in quantum medicine research proves this not to be true.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) recently published its most cogent report on the status of mental health globally. The report outlines the need for social and financial investment in mental health services affecting all generations. However, younger generations appear most affected. The WHO report states that nearly 1/5 of young people worldwide have a mental health condition. This is almost double the amount when comparing the numbers to the general population. Further, the report states over 1% of all global deaths are due to suicide, nearly 60% of whom are under 50 years old. Suicide is reported as the second-leading cause of death between 15 and 29-year-olds.

There is a multitude of variables that can affect mental well-being. This includes genetics, access to nature, diet, exercise, a sense of purpose, and social interaction, among many other things. Between the social isolation from COVID-19 lockdowns and unrest with war, climate, energy, and supply chain crises, the inner state of the population appears reflective of the wider turbulent socio-economic conditions. So, how can the Web3 industry help? 

How Can Web3 Assist with a Future of Digital Mental Health?

University of Florida (UF) recently published a study on the effects of “doomscrolling”. The term “doomscrolling” is thought to have originated on Twitter sometime in 2018. However, the phrase gained popularity throughout 2020 as billions became glued to COVID-19 updates. Doomscrolling is when one mindlessly scrolls endless newsfeeds, consuming negative content, and arrives on a page/story/image and has no idea how they got there. Social platforms operate this way to subconsciously market adverts to consumers. Several studies show that doomscrolling can have serious detrimental effects from a psychological (mind) and physiological (body) standpoint. While the Web3 industry itself cannot eliminate the trance-like phenomenon, it can offer insights into open-source platform algorithms. If people become aware of why they see such an ad, it may help them to wake up from the doomscrolling state. 

Blog - Web3 and Digital Mental Health

Learning about the origin of blockchain and the history of money yields valuable knowledge that can help one navigate any economic market. Understanding the difference between money and currency can help people preserve their wealth and hedge against inflation. Plus, people learn how to gain true ownership of assets without relying on gatekeepers (i.e., banks). Therefore, Web3 education can assist in improving mental health by giving people the knowledge to become financially free. With millions struggling with inflation-induced anxiety, Web3 education can offer a springboard for economic independence or an exciting new career.

The pandemic also induced the evolution of the work environment, with more people than ever working from home. As such, there is greater demand for online telemedicine services. The Web3 industry offers a novel opportunity with metaverse developments to provide a secure online space for telemedicine services. Plus, this will aid in expanding the awareness of new non-invasive, non-toxic, and non-pharmaceutical treatment options surrounding digital mental health.

Benefits of Web3 Digital Mental Health Services

Below, we discuss the various advantages of emerging digital mental health services. Also, we consider how blockchain and other Web3 technologies can increase the efficiency of services for patients and practitioners. To learn more about the Web3 apps, see our Ethereum 101 course at Moralis Academy. Or, see the Moralis and Moralis Academy blogs for free educational material on the leading blockchain projects. For example, save our “Rust & Solana” or our “Top 5 Solana Projects” articles for later!

Greater Accessibility to Services 

Healthcare services are in crisis worldwide due to absorbing the physiological impacts of poor mental health. Further, demands have been exacerbated with recent years of socio-economic upheaval. As a result, many people – predominantly low-income earners – don’t gain access to sufficient mental health treatment or services. Web3 digital mental health services have the potential to operate 24/7 as a decentralized network with global borderless access. Also, developments in metaverse technologies suggest telemedicine appointments may take place in virtual reality (VR) doctors’ rooms. Plus, with a much broader scope for facilitating services, costs for accessing digital mental health solutions will likely be cheaper than real-life appointments in some countries. 

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Data Privacy and Security 

Blockchain technology offers world-leading data security solely operating using mathematics, cryptography, and computer science. As every data entry into a blockchain is immutable, it is impossible to alter existing information covertly. In the very unlikely possibility of a bad actor manipulating a network, it would be highly cost-ineffective and publicly available for all to see. Therefore, Web3 technologies offer the best solution for patient data security. Also, patients can securely share information with external healthcare professionals using private keys. The potential for interoperability between digital mental health services is exponential in comparison to traditional health facilities.

Personalized Treatments

While much development is still required with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies, they are likely to become common practice within digital mental health services. Existing mental health apps are often criticized for taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Historically, this has hindered treatment and understanding of more nuanced and complex cases. Therefore, Web3 technologies can accelerate the efficiency of treatment, recovery, and research in mental health through AI-based customized services.

Reducing Pharmaceutical Dependency

With digital mental health set to operate in a predominantly online space, ideally, this will lead to fewer pharmaceutical and drug-based prescriptions. Web3 technologies are apt for facilitating mental well-being education spaces for self-regulating coping mechanisms. This can include mindfulness, meditation, hypnosis, and neurolinguistic programming (NLP), among other therapeutic activities.

Increasing Autonomy and Sense of Empowerment 

Another benefit of digital mental health services, as outlined in Frontiers Digital Health Journal, is the opportunity for increased autonomy and a sense of empowerment amongst users. In particular, this can largely benefit young people as the predominant users in the digital space. Studies suggest younger people feel more comfortable discussing personal vulnerabilities (such as poor mental health) in online environments rather than in face-to-face appointments. Web3 technologies are perfect for creating a secure, anonymous, and safe online space for digital mental health services. In turn, people can take an active role in seeking support and treatment. Plus, users can practice coping techniques outside of the traditional therapy setting. As a result, this can lead to a great sense of autonomy and empowerment.

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Additionally, most young people view the internet as a trusted source of information. As such, Web3 can play a vital role in the validity and security of the expansion of digital services. Data integrity is paramount to the foundational operations of decentralized technologies harnessing novel solutions that are frequently evolving. This includes consensus models, data oracles, and verifiable random function (VRF) protocols. Therefore, Web3 digital mental health services will offer the highest promise of data validity and security.

Risks of Web3 Digital Mental Health Services

The idea of borderless, permissionless access to digital mental health services 24/7 is not unrealistic. However, we are far from this being operationalized on a mass scale. Essentially, there is a great misunderstanding around the utility and potential of blockchain technology on an individual and industry-wide scale. Moreover, there will need to be application-specific developments before Web3 digital mental health solutions become mainstream. As this is novel cooperation between two relatively new industries, there is limited research and evidence to support using digital mental health services.

Network Scalability and Vulnerabilities

Blockchain is a cutting-edge technology with innovative properties with the potential to revolutionize any industry dealing with financial or data transactions. That said, the technology is far from perfect, with developers eagerly working to resolve the notorious “blockchain trilemma”. In short, this involves a blockchain network being fully scalable for mass use without compromising on decentralization or security. Additionally, blockchains typically use a unique design catering to a specific use case or user demographic. Currently, there is no active network specializing in facilitating digital mental health services.

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Another risk to consider is the probability of an application or network-wide hack or smart contract failure. Patient confidentiality is of the utmost importance in any clinical setting. A data breach or the leaking of sensitive information can have detrimental effects on one’s mental and emotional health. The risk of using Web3 digital mental health services is that a hacker could expose users’ personal information. This is particularly the case for smaller blockchain networks susceptible to 51% attacks or that have had zero auditing. However, blockchain is infamous for its security features both from an anonymity and data storage point of view. 

Lack of Regulation 

As with many innovative, fast-paced industries, there is a lag between the early adopters and the adoption of regulatory guidelines. Accordingly, many researchers and medical professionals have voiced concerns surrounding the lack of regulatory infrastructure for digital mental health apps. Also, this yields concerns about the adoption of digital mental health services in clinical settings. Alternatively, such unregulated activities may cause an unwanted effect of additional strain with therapy in clinical practices. Furthermore, ethical issues are being raised due to a lack of medical and technical standards in personalized neurotechnology and assistive cognitive technology.

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Ethical Concerns 

The current infrastructure for offering digital mental health services calls for an evaluation of ethical concerns. Young people are the predominant users of the digital landscape alongside being an age group particularly susceptible to manipulation. As such, addressing the lack of regulatory framework in digital mental health services will be a pivotal move for the industry. But there are still further ethical concerns to consider. A Web3 mental health service must address matters of clinical validation addressing the insufficient effectiveness of treatments. Also, regulatory guidance must be in place for offering user-centric services incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies. 

Exploring Web3 and Digital Mental Health – Summary 

The future of mental health services is likely to be digital-first. Further, the Web3 industry boasts technologies that can assist in the security, accessibility, and interoperability of mental health services. That said, there is great demand for implementing ethical guidelines and regulatory infrastructure before such technologies become mainstream. Moreover, application-specific development in the blockchain industry is needed to cater to specific user/data needs surrounding mental health.

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Overall, Web3 digital mental health solutions can offer greater access to services with borderless and permissionless applications. Plus, Web3 mental health care will likely take place in a virtual clinic inside the metaverse. Here, users can speak with different healthcare professionals with various specialties and can choose to be anonymous.

To discover more about metaverse and NFT developments, check out our NFT coding community. Or, discover the free Web3 blogs at Moralis and Moralis Academy to learn how to make the most out of Bitcoin’s winter season. For example, see our “How to Invest During a Crypto Bear Market” article next!