Published on 2 November 2022

A new NHS-approved app is available for people with living with stress, anxiety and depression.

People living with diabetes who also experience mental health issues as a complication of the condition could be offered a new app.

GPs are now able to prescribe the digital therapeutic tool to people showing symptoms of mild to moderate depression and anxiety.

Wysa is an NHS approved artificial intelligence-enabled mental health app for common mental health problems such as stress, anxiety and depression, which are often secondary comorbidities accompanying many long-term physical health conditions.

It is estimated that around 30% of all people with a long-term physical health condition also have mental health problems. In addition, the presence of mental disorders increases the risk of chronic physical illnesses like obesity or diabetes.

People with different types of diabetes often have distinctive psychosocial needs. This can impact on relationships, on working and social life, and on psychological well-being, with a consequent effect on overall quality of life.

Studies show that people with symptoms of mental health problems, 37.6% also have long-term physical conditions, compared to 25.3% of the population.

In 2016 The King’s Fund study reported that the psychological problems associated with physical health conditions, and vice versa, cost the NHS more than £11 billion a year – a figure that has increased in recent years as numbers increase.

A therapy consultation.

GPs want to support patients much more quickly than is possible using talking therapy services, and often resort to medication as an interim prescription solution. In many cases patient’s mental health symptom levels do not initially qualify for the NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme due to a severity mismatch, leaving patient’s mental health to deteriorate over time.

IAPT services see approximately 1.8 million people per year. Given that one in six people aged 16 and above in the UK have the symptoms of a common mental health disorder (approximately 7 million people), there are a huge number of people not being treated.

Dr Farhan Amin, a GP and digital pioneer within the NHS said: “We go into the job wanting to help people, but time pressures and lack of resources mean we just can’t support people in the way we want. Patients need more support with their mental health outside of the surgery, especially with lengthy waiting times meaning access to more traditional therapies can be delayed.

“Offerings like Wysa provide 24/7 help to our patients and remove some of the admin burden and clinical time from surgery staff. Having a ‘digital pill’ that is evidence based and clinically validated will allow us to help so many more people.”

The app is clinically safe, adhering to strict Digital Technology Assessment Criteria (DTAC) controls. GPs can offer Wysa to patients in the knowledge they will receive high quality care wherever and whenever it is needed. Access is via a mobile phone or tablet.

Ross O’Brien, UK Managing Director at Wysa said: “The mental health crisis isn’t going away. Frontline staff are stretched and sometimes have no avenue to support people through. GPs need to give their patients something. And there will be funds to do so via a cash boost of investment for GP practices to expand their services as part of a new five year contract from the NHS. Now is the chance to put good mental health in everyone’s hands, literally.”

Wysa has already been rolled out across a number of NHS IAPT talking therapy services. In this scenario, it allows patients an alternative way of making a referral, effectively becoming a ‘digital front door’ to both digital and therapist support. It is also used in IAPT services as a waitlist support tool.

Read The psychological impact of diabetes on mental health
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