Wellbeing and Mental Health

A lifeline in your pocket

An Afghan immigrant, who arrived on a dingy from Turkey, tries to comunicate with relatives as he waits for temporary documents outside a police station in Kos island, Greece, May 28, 2015. According to local media, an average of over 200 immigrants arrive in Kos every day in the last two months. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

Seeing the light: mobile technology can help to support mental health Image: REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

Jon Eddy
Head of Emerging Markets, VimpelCom
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Wellbeing and Mental Health?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how The Digital Economy is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

The Digital Economy

Have you used your mobile for health lately?

If so, you’re in good company. Whether a ping on your wrist reminds you to take a break from work, or whether you shared the GPS coordinates of your morning run with your social media followers, it’s no secret that more and more of us are hooked on health apps. In 2015, there were more than 3bn downloads of health apps from major apps stores worldwide, in a market with a predicted price tag of USD 59.15 billion by 2020.

 View of the app Breathe2Relax
Apps help people cope with a range of conditions

While it’s not always clear from the app store titles, mental health is part of the mix: mood trackers remind us to identify and modify our behavior; soothing meditation audio teaches us to disconnect from everyday stressors, and brain training apps promise to keep our minds on point. If we believe the app store reviews, many of us find these tools helpful. Still, most of us value mobile devices as a trivial extra when it comes to health, and especially mental health: nice to have, but certainly not a replacement for face to face, professional care and not particularly helpful in a crisis.

But in low-income countries, networked devices have a crucial role to play, and it’s one where the stakes could not be higher. The challenges of delivering mental health care in developing countries are, unsurprisingly, many and complex. Physicians may be fewer in number and spread out further than in the developed world, leaving conditions undiagnosed and patients without access to treatment.

Geographic conditions, poverty and economic considerations all limit access to medical practitioners, and the stigma attached to mental health conditions, in particular, can stop families seeking help. War and natural disaster leaves a legacy of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which frequently remains untreated, even when other basic needs are being met. It is clear there is much to be done.

The 24/7 counsellor

Bangladesh has historically suffered from the most deadly cyclones on record, with much of the country’s poorest population concentrated in flood-afflicted areas. 26% of all people in Bangladesh live below the poverty line, and making the most of limited healthcare resources is a pressing necessity.

A recent innovation from VimpelCom’s operating company Banglalink, in partnership with Synesis IT, gives us a glimpse of what’s possible. For the first time in Bangladesh, subscribers have 24/7 access to expert counsellors and clinical psychologists, simply by using their mobile phone. With 14.5 million adults and nearly 20% of 12 – 17 year-olds living with some form of mental disorder, mobile can provide an effective way to scale up support for sufferers.

And as smartphone adoption and network development grows, the possibilities become increasingly interesting. An open source project from Northwestern University examines the future application of the smartphone as a diagnostic tool, using onboard sensors to monitor speech patterns, record movement, track sleep and register the wearer’s heartbeat. Connected devices offer a frictionless way for patients to self-report symptoms, receive timely first interventions and streamline precious medical human resources.

While not a substitute for the care of a qualified practitioner, apps can allow otherwise disenfranchised patients to benefit from a myriad of services, like cognitive behavioral therapy, educational resources and peer support groups.

While there is much still to be done, the potential role for services like these in the mental health arena is promising. Mobile technology can play a vital role in servicing vulnerable people, encouraging those affected to seek treatment, and providing public education that lessens persistent stigmas.

Originally published at VimpelCom Blog

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Wellbeing and Mental HealthFourth Industrial Revolution
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

How business can lead a global response to the mental health crisis

Ruma Bhargava and Poppy Jaman

June 20, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum