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MENTAL Health Challenge seeks digital platform to combat loneliness

The challenge aims to combat the loneliness that older adults, people with disabilities and veterans experience, especially during pandemic.

The Department of Health and Human Services has set up a challenge for providers, organizations and others to create an online system to combat loneliness and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

HHS's Administration for Community Living and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health are currently accepting submissions to the MENTAL (Mobilizing and Empowering the Nation and Technology to Address Loneliness & social isolation) Health Challenge.

The challenge aims to combat the social isolation and loneliness that older adults, people with disabilities, and veterans often experience, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

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It seeks to find a user-friendly online system that connects people to community-based programs and resources based on their individual needs, interests and abilities.

The ACL and OASH invite proposals from businesses, nonprofits, local communities, healthcare providers, technologists, academics, and others to be submitted to the challenge.

The competition has $750,000 in prize money that will be given out across two phases. The grand prize for the winning solution is the chance to be a part of a public-private campaign that could reach up to 10 million socially-isolated older adults, people with disabilities, and veterans.

For those interested, there will be an informational webinar on Thursday, July 9 at 4 p.m. EST. Registration for the challenge closes on Wednesday, July 15 and submissions are due for phases one and two on September 8 and December 4, respectively.

The final two contenders will be selected to present their systems at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas January 6-9, 2021, where the winner will be announced.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Federal Communications Commission and the Consumer Technology Association Foundation are also part of the challenge as supporting partners.

WHY IT MATTERS

A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are socially isolated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that social isolation significantly increases a person's risk of premature death from all causes, a risk similar to smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only made problems of loneliness worse, as many people have been forced to follow social-distancing and self-isolation guidelines.

COVID-19 survivor Frank Cutitta recently told Healthcare Finance News and HIMSSTV that lonliness was a big issue during his 100 days spent in a Boston hospital and then rehab.

"For many older adults and people with disabilities, increased social isolation and loneliness is one unfortunate consequence of physical distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19," said Lance Robertson, ACL Administrator and HHS Assistant Secretary for Aging. "We need to have a wider range of tools and resources to help people remain connected and engaged, and an easy-to-use way for people to find and access them."

THE LARGER TREND

Many organizations have come up with mental health solutions to help people affected by the virus.

The CDC has an entire webpage full of mental health resources tied to the stressfulness of the pandemic.

Aetna and Wysa partnered to give all Aetna members access to the mental health mobile app.

There have also been a series of successful funding rounds for mental health digital platforms, including Mindstrong and Meru.

ON THE RECORD

"We need a multipronged public health approach to change the way we address social isolation, especially among our most at-risk populations," said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams. "This approach must include the development of innovative solutions to combat the harmful physical and mental health effects of social isolation and the role technology has in promoting better connections for all."

Twitter: @HackettMallory
Email the writer: mhackett@himss.org