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Interview with Craig DeLarge about Digital Mental Health

With a career in health and wellness spanning two decades, Craig DeLarge has held significant leadership roles for Johnson & Johnson, Communications Media, Inc., GlaxoSmithKline and Novo Nordisk. Craig recently left his management role with Merck, serving as the Global Leader of Multichannel Marketing Strategy & Innovation, to pursue opportunities in the digital mental health space. In addition to Craig’s pursuits in health and wellness, he is also a successful business coach and blogger. Craig’s coaching blog can be found at WiseWorking.com.


1) After a long and successful career in pharma, what are the major factors pulling you to now focus your energy on digital mental health?

There are 2 major factors that have contributed to my pivot. The first is that I have fortunately reached a period in my life where I have the luxury of taking a sabbatical. During this sabbatical I am bringing together my 15 years of digital health care experience with my personal interest in mental health as a professional coach/trainer and mental health advocate. I am not a psychologist, but I have experience helping people with change and personal growth. I also have a personal interest because I am a caregiver and due in part to that personal journey I have done extensive work with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The second is there a major paradigm shift in health care from a pay for service model to a pay for outcome model. I am interested in playing a part in the evolution of this change. I realized I need to contribute to commercial models focused on health outcomes.

2) What has impressed you so far about the budding digital mental health space? What has been a disappointment?

As I have surveyed the space of digital technologies focused on the prevention or treatment of mental health/illness, I have been impressed with the breadth and variety of available technologies.

I won’t call this a disappointment, but what I would like to see more integration of individual technology solutions. Although there is clearly a lot more out there in digital mental health, I have yet to see many players integrate their offerings and create a holistic solution to the benefit of the patient and caregiver.

3) Given your unique vantage point, what role do you believe pharma plays in supporting digital mental health initiatives succeed?

Pharma can help integrate these products with their core product – drugs – to get a synergistic 1+1-3 safety & efficacy effect. For instance, drugs are only effective if you take them. In mental health there is a lot of non-compliance. There is a chance for digital health tech to have a complementary effect strengthening compliance & support. There is also the opportunity for better use of patient’s data to create win-win therapy & outcome situations.

Another point is Pharma has the money to invest to support digital health in a venture capitalist & scale up role. Most of the big Pharma players already have innovative investment funds, and have mechanisms for investing in budding digital health technologies.

Lastly, Pharma is skilled at influencing public policy. In that respect, Pharma can help assure there is room for relevant digital health technologies to grow in their beneficial application and use.

4) One of the early assumptions about wearables specific to digital physical health was that data in and of itself would be a change agent. There is growing evidence that to improve physical wellness, the human element is still required and that digital monitoring is simply another tool to augment mentorship and coaching. Do you think the same will be true for digital mental health?

The simple answer is yes, but not in the short-term. There will come a day where artificial intelligence will be smart enough to help mental health patients. I am confident of that, but we are not close yet for two reasons. One, the technology is simply not sophisticated enough yet. Two, my generation does not possess the comfort level with technology that they would see their phone as their therapist. However, our children and grandchildren are growing up in a new world where their generation might be able to have that type of relationship with technology. There is a degree of acceptance that needs to occur for technology to supplement the human element at that level and that will not come quickly, but it is coming. In the short-term although I do not believe digital health tech can replace human mediation, I do think there is a good chance that the right technology will be great at augmenting traditional therapies. These technologies today have an opportunity to act as supplements and/or amplifiers to the experience a person has with their healthcare providers and caregivers.

5) Playing the role of an optimist but tempered by the current results of activity tracking and cognitive brain training (thus far), how much do you think can be accomplished regarding digital mental health over the next five years?

This might be out of bounds regarding the specific questions, but I would hope simply we are more accepting, less judgmental, and have erased much of the stigma around mental health and mental illness that currently exists in society.

Going back to a previous answer, I hope in five years developed comfort with these technologies allows us close the gap between our view of physical health and mental health as separate things. The two are interrelated and it is damaging to separate them. There is a rising tide of awareness, and through social media it is amplified, which is bringing awareness to mental health issues. As a leader, I want to make sure this momentum is supported and progresses.

Additionally, I think wearables will become ubiquitous and invisible, and improved in their ability to reliably measure for outcomes. Its digital health adoption will grow exponentially. As a caveat, I don’t think you will see people who suffer from hallucinatory illnesses (such as schizophrenia) really benefiting from these technologies, but other mental illnesses, like depression, bipolar, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, etc., where increased mindfulness, awareness, and social support can be an important intervention should benefit greatly. 

Lastly, I would love to see technology help the caregivers of the mentally ill. There are opportunities to support this groups and especially in the face of comorbidities they face as part of the caregiver role. My hope is that innovators can find ways to help caregivers and create technologies that works for them too.