Health & Wellbeing

A catalyst moment for improving mental health through digital technology


Published Apr 3, 2023

Wellington UniVentures played a key role in last week's launch of the Digital Mental Health Catalyst at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

Over 60 attendees gathered at the University last week to kick start the Digital Mental Health Catalyst—a nationally connected initiative to increase the impact of technology for mental health and equity gains.

Key themes that emerged over the course of the evening were the potential that digital technology has for addressing current mental health issues in Aotearoa and the need for sustained funding and policy support to keep momentum going.

Representatives from government, health sector, business, and academia were present to hear from guest speakers Robyn Shearer (Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Deputy Director General, Ministry of Health), Dr Monique Faleafa (PWC Partner and Pacific mental health leader), and Ryl Jensen (CEO Digital Health Association).

There was also the chance to browse the Digital Health Showcase, an expo of research and teaching happening in the digital health space at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

Dr Terry Fleming, co-leader of the Digital Mental Health Catalyst, has been researching the impact of digital tools on youth mental health for many years and was co-developer of SPARX computerized cognitive behaviour therapy.

She says that the Digital Mental Health Catalyst is all about building connections between communities, government, industry, and diverse students and staff to achieve more in this space.

“There is lots of exciting work in digital health around the university and many people want to make a difference in mental health. The catalyst will help us to achieve more by working together,” says Dr Fleming.

The Digital Mental Health Catalyst is guided by the whakataukī (Māori proverb): “Ko te mauri, he mea huna ki te moana. Powerful aspects of life are hidden in plain sight.”

Co-leader Fran Kewene says this speaks of the hidden potential technology has for individuals and whānau to support their own mental health and wellbeing in their own place and in their own time.

“This catalyst enables our team and collaborators to continue to explore the opportunities digital health tools can have for all our communities.”

A focus on community was something that guest speaker Dr Monique Faleafa reflected on in her speech also— “if we keep the vision of serving our communities in mind, then we’ll have a very impactful enabler for wellbeing”.

The event was an interdisciplinary gathering of people who are committed to improving mental health outcomes in Aotearoa, from engineers to health experts to investors. It captured the spirit of the Digital Mental Health Catalyst and provided a solid platform for progressing a shared vision of improved mental health equity and outcomes in Aotearoa.

As well as cutting-edge research into digital mental health, the Digital Mental Health Catalyst is also committed to moving innovations out of the laboratory and into communities where they can have an impact. Wellington UniVentures, the University’s commercialisation office, plays a key role in shaping these ideas into real world applications.

Wellington UniVentures Business Development Manager, Andrew Cameron, works with digital health researchers across the University and has been an integral part of the development of the Catalyst. He says that digital resources will play a bigger and bigger role in addressing the rising mental health epidemic we are experiencing in Aotearoa New Zealand, and indeed the world.

“Wellington UniVentures can connect the trail-blazing work of our University researchers with opportunities for impact, whether it be through supporting the development of a new app or product or linking up our experts with government and industry.

“This launch marks our collective commitment to take Wellington’s world-class digital mental health research to the world.”