Takeaways and reflections from the NIHR MindTech MIC National Symposium – by Dionne Bowie-DaBreo


The 2018 NIHR MindTech MIC National Symposium was held under the theme Improving Lives with Digital Mental Healthcare. This one-day event saw attendees experience presentations and discussions covering the spectrum of digital mental healthcare, from design and development of innovative digital mental health interventions to practical application of digital mental healthcare systems within healthcare services. A key strength of the event was the balance of innovative technologies with real-world application and contexts, as reflected in my three key takeaways from the symposium:

1 – Digital technology for mental health: The top ten questions

MindTech in partnership with the James Lind Alliance led research and consultation to generate the top 10 questions for digital mental healthcare. The final 10 questions, narrowed from hundreds, reflect priority areas for research. The top question asks:

“What are the benefits and risks of delivering mental health care through technology instead of face-to-face and what impact does the removal of face-to-face human interaction have?”

This reflects the continued need for more extensive and longitudinal research into the use of digital mental healthcare as an alternative to face-to-face treatments. This is further reflected in the nine other questions, which ask about the appropriate use of digital interventions within the care pathway; opportunities to maximise reach, access, and treatment outcomes; and the effect of technology on mental health. For more information on the top 10 questions, visit: mindtech.org.uk/digitalmhq

2 – The value and importance of multisector design and development in digital mental healthcare

The MindTech symposium treated attendees to a glimpse at innovative technologies in mental healthcare. Interventions included immersive gaming for anxiety in children (BfB Labs), cranio-electrostimulation for generalised anxiety (AlphaStim), automated psychological therapy using virtual reality for fear of heights (Oxford VR), and remote measurement technology in mental healthcare (RADAR-CNS). Throughout these and other presentations, the importance of multisector consultation, design, and development was truly apparent. The digital interventions presented reflected the expertise and experience of its collaborators, with strength in gaming design and development, to practical adoption of evidence-based approaches.

Photo by Dionne Bowie-DaBreo capturing presentation ‘Automated psychological therapy delivered using virtual reality (VR): A randomized controlled trial for the fear of heights’ by Prof Daniel Freeman (Oxford VR, University of Oxford).

Presentations also captured the need for involvement of users throughout this process, as researchers shared unique insights garnered from co-development with relevant user groups. Such insights reflected differences in preferences for intervention design and delivery across the age range; notably, some developers found that children aged 14 years and younger were interested in gamification for anxiety (BfB Labs), whilst others reported that slightly older users (16-22 years) did not want gamified interventions (ECoWeB) but rather favoured flexibility, choice, and simplicity. These differences in user preferences and needs remind us of the need for user-centred design and co-creation to tackle the persistent challenges with low rates of engagement and adherence.

3 – A call to “Harness the fire”

In his closing keynote for the symposium titled ‘Digital Mental Health 2028’, Dr Tom Insel (Mindstrong Health) addressed the existing gaps in the field and the potential for progress in the next 10 years. He spoke of the need to utilise the power of digital to propel digital mental healthcare into mainstream use and adoption in healthcare services. He also highlighted the importance of value and trust in systems in empowering patients and families. This address acknowledged the innovative contributions in the field thus far and emphasised the need for continued integration and advancement of digital mental healthcare to truly impact service delivery in the next 10 years.

Photos by Dionne Bowie-DaBreo capturing closing keynote presentation by Dr Tom Insel (Mindstrong Health).

The NIHR MindTech MIC National Symposium 2018 also offered me the opportunity to present my own research and to gain invaluable feedback from the diverse group of attendees. My poster presentation titled ‘A systemic ethical framework for mobile mental health: From design to implementation’ provided a summary of my research in progress and my initial conceptualisation of an ethical framework for mobile mental health. The poster was among those highly commended.

Bowie, D., Sunram-Lea, S., Sas, C., & Iles-Smith, H. (2018, December). A systemic ethical framework for mobile mental health: From design to implementation. Poster session presented at NIHR MindTech MIC National Symposium 2018: Improving Lives with Digital Mental Healthcare, London, UK.


MindTech is a national centre focussing on the development, adoption and evaluation of new technologies for mental healthcare and dementia. The 2018 National Institute for Healthcare Research (NIHR) MindTech MIC National Symposium was held on the 5th December 2018, at Royal College of Physicians, Regent’s Park, London, uniting stakeholders across academia, healthcare, commerce, service users, and communities through their shared interest of digital mental healthcare. Find out more about MindTech 2018 here.


Dionne Bowie-DaBreo is an AffecTech Early Stage Researcher (ESR), Psychology student and Research Fellow based at Lancaster University and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust in the UK. AffecTech is an international multidisciplinary research and development project funded by European Union Horizon 2020, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Innovative Training Networks. AffecTech ESRs are involved in a unique doctoral training programme to advance personal health technologies for affective disorders – depression, anxiety and bipolar. For more information, please visit AffecTech.org.