Introducing Mindset: a new ecosystem to help immersive technology developers improve the UK’s mental health

February 28, 2024

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The Health Innovation Network (HIN) South London and UKRI recently announced a multi-year innovator support programme focused on the use of immersive therapeutics for mental health. In this first blog about the programme, HIN Executive Director for Digital and Transformation Dr Amanda Begley discusses the context of the project and why we believe emerging extended reality technologies offer real hope for the millions of people impacted by mental illness in the UK.

I am thrilled to be writing the first blog on our partnership with UKRI for the Mindset-XR Innovator Support Programme.

Stimulating immersive innovations in mental health will require the involvement of a wide range of skills from different sectors, including those who may not have traditionally brought their expertise to health and care challenges. In particular, the creative industries such as gaming, artists and visual production will bring genuinely innovative perspectives and novel solutions.

We were inspired on hearing about some of the Strand 1 Mindset-XR funded projects recently, which cover a range of immersive technology, such as extended and virtual reality using headsets, remote touch, music and sounds, and mobile gaming. These novel solutions will offer support to people with anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder psychosis, and dementia. A further cohort of projects – funded through Stand 2 – will be announced soon.

In our first blog I wanted to share why we are so passionate about supporting the development and acceleration of UKRI’s Mindset-XR programme and to ask you to join us in driving forward new solutions for those in need of support:

The scale of the mental health challenge

The impact of poor mental health set out in the recent Government’s Mental Health and Wellbeing plan discussion paper makes for difficult reading. Approximately one adult in six has a common mental health condition; more than 60% of children and young people who have a diagnosable mental health condition do not currently receive NHS care, and two-thirds of the growing number of people who end their life by suicide are not in contact with NHS mental health services.

There are also huge disparities – people facing social and economic disadvantage have a much higher risk of developing mental health conditions, and there are significant inequalities related to ethnicity, age, sexuality, gender, neurodiversity, and long-term physical health conditions. The Kings Fund recently published a series of Mental Health 360 reports outlining these issues in greater detail.

Merely expanding current services is not a feasible or complete solution. Our Mindset programme aims to co-develop solutions with lived experience partners and bring to market a broader range of accessible innovative technologies – technologies that will help people to live well and support them to recover when they are in need.

At the HIN, we recently engaged over 870 service users and members of the public to explore their experiences and sentiments towards digital health technologies (DHTs) in the context of mental health. We found that overall there was openness toward digital adoption and a recognition that DHTs can help make services more efficient and user experience better. The insights we gathered have informed a set of recommendations to improve acceptability and usage of digital within mental health. We will actively use these recommendations to inform our Mindset Innovation Support .

The UK immersive technology sector has the potential to be world leading in bringing solutions to market.

The opportunity for growth is well documented in the recent UKRI-funded report The Growing Value of XR in Healthcare, citing existing evidence of the effectiveness of immersive technology for neurodevelopmental disorders, psychotic disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders. The report also states that while immersive technologies will never replace face-to-face therapies, there is a positive view towards the use of virtual reality by therapists and the public.

The 2022 Immersive Economy in the UK report highlights that immersive technology in healthcare has experienced the highest growth rate in the number of businesses over the previous five years (88%) of any comparable innovation area. Close to 40% of immersive tech companies are within the health sector. The report also states that private investment in immersive technologies reached £224m in 2021 and investments in the first half of 2022 totalled at nearly 90% of the amount raised in 2021.

We will shortly be hosting a roundtable to discuss how we stimulate investment in immersive technology for mental health, which will be led by HIN’s chair Hitesh Thakrar. Let us know if you’d like to see the output.

Through collaboration – with UK wide reach and a breadth of expertise – we can help to bring immersive tech safely into the hands of patients and staff.

When bidding for the programme, we rapidly formed a brilliant team of collaborators with expertise in areas including:

  • understanding the need for innovation;
  • the immersive and digital technologies market;
  • navigating the NHS for adoption and spread;
  • regulatory, legal and ethical requirements; and
  • clinical study design.

However, we are learning all the time about more individuals and teams across the UK with a passion for – and expertise in – immersive and digital health technologies and mental health.

We want to expand the Mindset innovator support collaboration – bringing our collective skills and networks together with yours to support innovators, enable people to connect and ultimately to help our service users and staff by improving access, experience and outcomes.

Our collaboration includes:

  • The Health Innovation Network provides geographical coverage of health and care organisations and Universities across England, alongside having established relationships across Wales and Scotland through our collaborators: Health Innovation North East and North Cumbria, Health Innovation North West Coast and Health Innovation South West.
  • Health Innovation Research Alliance Northern Ireland (HIRANI) is an alliance of universities, health organisations and other industry bodies, established to drive and support ambitious growth in Northern Ireland’s Life and Health Sciences sector.
  • Hardian Health has an experienced multidisciplinary team which provides significant experience of bringing medical devices to market including regulatory consultants with MHRA and notified body contacts, medical doctors, health economic experts, market strategists and an intellectual property attorney.
  • Hill Dickinson LLP will provide pro bono support with experience and expertise in providing advice, training and materials on regulatory issues, IP, data protection, contracting and market access digital health, mental health, and immersive technology.
  • Kings College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) will lead our clinical study design training. The IoPPN is an internationally-recognised centre of expertise focused on how we understand, prevent and treat mental illness, neurological conditions, and other conditions that affect the brain.
  • MQ Mental Health Research is the UK’s leading mental health research charity with an extensive network across lived experience, clinical, policy, research, industry and investors. MQ will lead on service user involvement and training for grant recipients, alongside bringing in their network to the Mindset community.
  • XR Health Alliance have over 7 years’ experience working to support transdisciplinary collaborations – connecting the creative, XR and healthcare sectors to support the adoption of XR in mental health. Through delivery of the Growing Value of XR in Healthcare Report, and global expert mission to engage key international stakeholders, they have built a network of national and global leaders in immersive technologies.

There will be lots of opportunities to collaborate and contribute to the programme – so if you want to be part of this exciting new immersive tech opportunity, then please sign up to our Mindset Innovator Support Programme newsletter to hear about our events and networking opportunities.

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