March 2, 2022

March 1, 2022

The Missing Element From Mental Health Care

The mental health care industry is experiencing unprecedented growth, yet, many still find they are missing a key ingredient: empowerment. Why is empowerment important to the mental health care movement and can digital therapeutics drive better outcomes?

Written By

Hayley Kirsh

Hayley Kirsh is a writer and wannabe cabinetmaker living in Ottawa, Canada. She is a firm believer in the power of psychedelic healing in therapeutic settings after her own experiences with plant medicine in Peru.

When personal power is at the center of mental health care, the chances of achieving one’s health goals greatly improve.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), empowerment in mental health helps users adopt self-determination and autonomy, exert more influence on social and political decision-making processes, and increase self-esteem.

Once heavily stigmatized, mental health is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Where treatment once involved condemning and ignoring issues of the mind, approaches are shifting to be more empowering. This involves raising awareness and investing in wellness tools to provide individuals with targeted solutions to mental health issues.

In a Canadian report, mental health was broadly defined as “The capacity of the individual, group, and environment to interact with one another in ways that promote subjective well-being, the optimal development and use of mental abilities (cognitive, affective, and relational), the achievement of individual and collective goals consistent with justice and the attainment and preservation of conditions of fundamental equality.”

The definitions of empowerment and mental health go hand-in-hand to promote the goals of the individual. In transitioning mental health care to better include empowerment techniques, mental wellness wins. 

What Is Empowerment?

Empowerment is the act of being engaged and active in one’s own healing journey, exercised by the level of choice, influence, and control that users of mental health services can have over events in their lives. Empowerment is recognized both as an outcome by itself and as an intermediate step to long-term health status and disparity outcomes.

According to this article, there are three common elements that define empowerment. 

The first is perceived and actual power. In their relationships with professionals, vulnerable people often experience what’s known as “power over” or feelings of domination. In these scenarios, consumers are conditioned to be compliant and to believe they are powerless, listening to whatever advice a professional gives without question. Mental health professionals that allow consumers to have choice and control in therapy are a key element to empowerment.

The second element is “self in community.” This refers to empowering consumers by helping to define their identity, learn valued social roles, and enhance their participation in community life. Community is a key component of consumer empowerment as people who are more socially connected have fewer mental health problems

Finally, empowerment in mental health care comes from access to valued resources. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canadians in the lowest income group are 3 to 4 times more likely than those in the highest income group to report poor to fair mental health. 

Many psychiatric consumers live in poverty with high rates of unemployment and have inadequate access to education. As psychologist Isaac Prilleltensky noted, “It is hard to imagine a process of empowerment occurring in the absence of improvement in the material conditions of life of consumers.” Research shows that successful recovery of mental health is embedded within the process of empowerment and vice versa.

What Is Empowerment in Mental Health?

Traditionally, the approach to mental health care has placed emphasis on professional expertise and control, a formal diagnosis of deficits, emphasis on symptom reduction, and life skills training.

While great techniques, these protocols fail to empower consumers as they lead to little choice and control over individual goals. Additionally, formal diagnoses can cost a lot of money — as we know from studies into HSDD, symptom reduction fails to address the roots of mental health issues.

Around the 1990s, such protocols were met with an increased acknowledgment of the importance of empowerment. This philosophy emphasized three elements necessary to help consumers reach their mental health goals: 

  • Encouragement practices like self-help
  • Empowerment-oriented support coordination 
  • Supported housing, education, and employment

These changes also ensured that mental health treatment went beyond just one system, expanding the lens and scope of what empowerment means by incorporating an understanding of economic, political, and community systems. Numerous studies have noted how economic, political, and community improvements are necessary to enhance mental health care and vice versa.

On the topic of consumer engagement in mental health, this article references organizational empowerment in mental health care and its implications, noting success through:

  • Increased service innovation
  • Responsiveness to changes in the marketplace
  • Accountability

For consumers, this list includes enhanced quality of care, improved services, protected consumer rights, maintaining personal dignity and integrity, and deflating organizational and individual stigma.

Just as there is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health, there is also no specific “How-To” guide for promoting consumer empowerment. That’s what makes optionality and personalization so important to healing. The techniques and protocols that have shown success are ones that tend to individual needs and allow the consumer to lead their own healing.

A Barrier to Empowerment

It’s important to acknowledge stigma as an ongoing roadblock to empowerment and what it means for mental health care. Stigma is a huge barrier when it comes to empowering those with mental health struggles as it creates significant blocks to the types of community opportunities that are available and the willingness consumers have to overcome them. 

Without community support in place, consumers can feel powerless and alone in their journey to mental wellness.

How Can iSTRYM Help?

Mental health empowerment comes from a place of information and control. So, why not literally put it in the hands of the consumer? An app like iSTRYM can be crucial in providing those healing resources, integrative content, and consistent dialogue focused on successfully treating and working towards a consumer's mental health goals.

With iSTRYM, patients stay active and connected on their path to mental wellness. Using techniques like gamification and visuals of progress, the app helps consumers start and stay empowered in their mental wellness journey with insights and control.

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Gamification & Visuals of Progress

To help individuals take hold of their healing journey, a centralized bank of resources is key. This is why the iSTRYM app is built with gamification and visuals of progress.

Mental health patients require engaging activities and journaling that keep them invested in their journey with visuals and daily interactions.

Gamification describes game-like features (i.e., things users can click and interact with that encourage patient engagement and also improve holistic data). Like gamification, visuals of progress allow consumers to stay on top of their goals and actually visualize their progress along the way. 

In this way, healing becomes an interactive experience that lets users celebrate and look forward to their own progress, rather than a burden or chore.

Everyone heals differently. iSTRYM encourages empowerment and engagement along the healing journey with tailored activities that help patients build better habits in their own time.

A Holistic Approach With Digital Therapeutics

Most care systems work in isolation from others. But mental health issues shouldn’t be siloed. Care providers work more effectively with a patient's full history prior to treatment and insights into the journey as the patient undergoes care. A full, well-rounded picture can help drive better diagnoses and more targeted results.

The same is true in treatments that rely on managing symptoms rather than focusing on the individual and their needs. If one approach (like pharmaceuticals) is treated more importantly than the other (like talk therapy), how effective can treatment be? 

Digital therapeutics offer a holistic approach that provides a deeper look at the patient as a whole — mind, body, and soul. Put the patient experience first by integrating iSTRYM into your care practice. 

MINDCURE’s digital therapeutic combines talk therapy support, data input, therapeutic wellness tools, and speech recognition to help paint a clearer picture. It helps consumers to feel in control and tailors healing approaches to them.

Strategies that include endorsing recovery rather than focusing on poor prognoses, treatment plans that are collaborative rather than unilateral, and treatment services provided in closer proximity (perhaps from as far a reach as your arm length) are the future of mental health therapy. They start at

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