Kirsikka Kaipainen, CEO of Headsted, which currently owns the Oivamieli application developed by VTT, believes that technology is creating new opportunities for mental self-care and the development of mindfulness skills.
– Google Play and Apple Store are bursting with apps that support positive life changes, but the level of applications varies when anyone can develop them. On the other hand, we already have a lot of evidence on the effectiveness of apps like Oivamieli, which has been developed by professionals, says Kaipainen.
Factors such as the spread of smartphones, the overall development of IT and almost universal internet access are creating new opportunities for using online self-care programmes.
– It is much more challenging to develop applications for children and young people, since they tend to be more demanding about the audiovisual and entertainment aspect, explains Kaipainen.
On the other hand, Kaipainen believes that everyone should learn mindfulness skills, preferably at school age.
Prevention or first step
The strength of online self-care programmes is their low threshold. Oivamieli provides exercises straight away, for example.
– Oivamieli can serve as the first step when wondering whether you need help. In the case of social anxiety, for instance, an online application can ease the symptoms, enabling you to visit a specialist, Kaipainen states.
However, an online tool is not solely for difficult situations or actual problems. Apps can provide help in improving quality of life and preventing problems. For example, many psychologists and coaches use Oivamieli as additional support for their clients.
On the other hand, applications could be used for stress management more often by working people, since Oivamieli and many other self-care programmes by Headsted or, say, HUS's Mentalhub, are free of charge for users.
"However, it can be difficult to find your way to an online tool – tips on good tools are often needed from professionals or the equivalent," comments Kaipainen.
The UK is a pioneer
Headsted provides online programmes in the UK as well as Finland. The use of online healthcare programmes and the evaluation of their impact are further advanced in the UK than in Finland.
– In the UK, mental healthcare providers are being encouraged, nationally, to use evidence-based online programmes created according to the multi-step healthcare principle.
Kaipainen points out that Finland does not yet have corresponding, established practices for using online programmes in public healthcare.
– More education and training opportunities should be provided for healthcare experts in this respect, remarks Kaipainen.
ACT helps users to accept their thoughts and feelings
Headsted's programmes are based on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), aimed at changing the way users handle their negative thoughts and feelings, while helping them to live lives that are meaningful to them. ACT guides them towards accepting thoughts and feelings as they are, rather than avoiding them. These methods have also been applied in working life and have been found to improve motivation, efficiency and even creativity.
– Plenty of scientific evidence has been gathered in Finland and elsewhere on the functioning and effectiveness of apps based on ACT methods. Symptoms have also been alleviated in cases where therapy has been provided online or via a mobile device in place of traditional group or individual therapy, Kaipainen adds
Kaipainen points out that Finland is world-class in ACT research, which will provide Headsted with a major competitive edge when it introduces its online programmes to the world.
Own experiences provided the inspiration
Stress is caused by the continuous availability, multichannel and instant communications environment typical of modern, everyday life. Although such changes have their good side, people still need peace and the opportunity to focus. Simultaneously, mental well-being issues have become more familiar and accepted, and are discussed more widely without stigmatising people. So there seems to be demand for self-care applications.
– An occupational well-being impact investment programme is under way in Finland, through which Headsted's programmes are being offered to employees. Ironically, a challenge lies in the fact that stressed workers simply lack the time for extra activities such as completing the programme. Employers' support for the roll-out of the application is also essential.
Kaipainen nevertheless stresses that time needs to be set aside for raising your motivation. Oivamieli exercises can be done on a mobile application while on the bus, for example.
– Improving motivation requires a permanent change in practices and a long-term approach to developing mindfulness skills, rather than a single experiment or quick fix. This can lead to lasting changes in your own well-being, Kaipainen says.
She knows this, because her own experiences lie behind the inspiration for developing online self-care programmes. An online programme provided relief for her own social anxiety symptoms. Kaipainen no longer spends time in front of a computer, avoiding people, but is taking Headsted out into the world.
KIRSIKKA KAIPAINEN, the CEO of Headsted Oy, was previously a VTT Research Scientist, who worked on the development of innovations such as the Oivamieli application. She has been working on online and mobile mental well-being applications for almost twenty years, was awarded a doctoral degree in 2014 and has learned to conquer her own fears. This has given her a strong desire to help other people to conquer theirs.