Scotland has become the first country in the world to offer free digital therapy for anxiety and insomnia to every adult.
More than five million people across all 14 NHS Scotland health board areas will have 24/7 instant access to cognitive behavioural therapy.
From Wednesday, anyone in Scotland can self-refer to Daylight, for help with anxiety, and Sleepio, to deal with insomnia, two apps offering first-line treatment.
All health and social care staff, and unpaid carers in Scotland have had free access to the programmes already.
“Scotland is the only country to truly exploit the potential for digital therapeutics”Dr Charlotte Lee
It comes after many people said their mental health problems worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic, with warnings that services are in crisis.
More than 1600 children and young people have been waiting for longer than a year for mental health treatment as referrals doubled in a year.
More than 40,000 calls to NHS Scotland’s mental health crisis line were abandoned in the last year, figures have shown.
And a review of mental health services in Scotland found they were affected by “racial inequalities”.
Kevin Stewart, minister for mental wellbeing, said the pandemic had affirmed what was already known – that digital mental health provision was “critical”.
The Scottish Government announced the partnership with Big Health, a company that develops digital mental health programmes, as part of its decade long plan to improve mental health services announced in 2017.
Big Health’s co-founder and chief scientist, Scotsman Professor Colin Espie, said the partnership with the NHS and government was “great”.
“Delighted to help folks in Scotland with sleep and anxiety problems with evidence-based digital CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). Alternative to medication now immediately available.”
In October 2020, the Scottish Government made Daylight and Sleepio available across five health boards.
Big Health said nearly 70% of users experienced an improvement in their anxiety symptoms and gained an average of seven additional hours of sleep a week.
The company’s UK director, Dr Charlotte Lee, said demand on services continued to rise and Scotland’s focus on expanding care through digital means was “innovative”.
“By increasing the options for evidenced-based mental health help at the point of need, Scotland is the only country to truly exploit the potential for digital therapeutics”, she said.
“We are proud to expand our service in Scotland to support the Scottish Government’s world-leading mental health strategy.”
Mental wellbeing and social care minister Kevin Stewart said that Daylight and Sleepio had been assessed for their effectiveness and provided “clinically validated solutions for those who need it most”.
“Digital technologies have massive potential to help people manage and support their mental health in a way that feels right for them,” he said.
“We are working with NHS Scotland to combine traditional in-person services with technology enabled solutions, allowing us to reach people with the right treatment at the right time.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has only affirmed what we knew from the beginning – digital mental health is critical to help scale much-needed services and provide additional choice for people to manage their mental health.”