Mental tech health, via virtual care, wearables, chatbots and other futuristic innovations, is moving mainstream to support the 450 million individuals currently struggling.
Mental health is moving far beyond the psychiatrist’s couch. Technological advancement has pushed digital therapeutics to the forefront of convenience — in people’s pockets, on their laptops and even within Facebook messenger. And with that, the category expands to include a suite of wellness products and services.
It’s a new ecosystem that sees individuals relying on a wide range of tools—chatbots, apps and digital support groups—to combat modern-day issues such as burnout, loneliness and anxiety. Combined with traditional medical models, it encompasses a holistic approach to psychological well being.
Mental Health Issues
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 25 percent of all people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, with roughly 450 million individuals currently struggling with a condition. Unfortunately, care is far from the norm: Nearly two-thirds of those living with a mental disorder never seek help from a health professional.
Mental illness has historically been brushed under the carpet and treated as a taboo subject. Thankfully, times are changing. With many celebrities, and even royalty, sharing stories about their own mental health health challenges, people are becoming more open about discussing depression, anxiety and mental illness. As society is becoming more enlightened about the subject of mental illness, technology is becoming an important part of providing solutions to preserve and improve mental health.
The biggest barriers remain stigma, time, cost and availability. Many people wait weeks for a doctor’s appointment, provided they can even afford it. Others fear parking outside a therapist’s office, lest their neighbors see them. To that end, Silicon Valley boasts an impressive array of digital solutions to ensure more individuals receive discreet and flexible care. Nearly 10,000 mental health apps currently crowd the market, with meditation tools such as Calm evolving into billion-dollar companies.
More than half of those suffering from mental illness go undiagnosed — a relative danger to those suffering and to those around them. If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, or think you may have one, your next step is to seek professional guidance. Professionals trained in mental health are the only ones who can provide a diagnosis and set up a care management plan.
Technological advances are proving to be an immense help in gathering data to better understand these illnesses, to offset the lack of funding for programs and the high cost of treatment of mental health afflictions (as well as suicides) have been on the rise in the last decade, and while research hasn’t had a breakthrough in drug medication in nearly 30 years, technology has been here to help.
Mental Health Technology
A lot has been said how using technology (largely social media) can bring some users feelings of isolation and loneliness (as well as jealousy, inadequacy, etc.), yet there are also ways technology is being utilized to enhance the lives of those dealing with mental illness. There is even hope that soon technology will be able to help clinicians forecast suicide risks.
Technology and mental well-being might seem like profoundly antagonistic terms. However, there are excellent digital tools to help you reach mindfulness and to practice meditation.
Mental Health Wearables
Mental wellness wearables such as headsets and bracelets slowly see traction, though many are still in the early stages of clinical trials. Sentio Solutions recently announced Feel, an emotion-sensing wristband with integrated biosensors that monitors a user’s physiological signals throughout the day. Paired with an accompanying cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) app, it aims to help those suffering from anxiety and depression.
The Muse headband is a brain sensing headband helps you get the most out of your meditation practice by giving you real-time biofeedback about what is going on in your mind. The Muse is not some dystopian headset trying to alter your brain. Instead its makers, InteraXon want to train you to modify it yourself. The routine is simple. You put the Muse headset on, you complete the breathing exercises to the sound of waves (neutral), storms (bad) and tweeting birds (good) which indicate how focused and calm you are. If your mind is too active, the Muse gives you feedback to help you clear your thoughts.
Telemedicine/teletherapy (the use of electronic and communication technologies as a therapeutic aid to healthcare practices is, in many cases, free or very low cost and therefore available to all who seek it. Other benefits include convenience, anonymity and 24-hour availability. It’s also hugely beneficial in connecting clinicians and patients; sometimes enabling them to treat more patients in a more efficient time frame; allowing for faster contact, intervention and possibly prevention.
E-Health and tele-health allow people to connect with mental health professionals virtually, by video conference, or by phone. It reduces barriers to health care and ensures that everyone can access the services they need. Websites, apps, and other technologies can help people learn about their health problem, monitor symptoms and practice self-help strategies. Regularly noting symptoms, responses to treatments, or other events in your life can help you and your care team find patterns and catch problems earlier. You can also use technology to learn and practice self-help strategies.
Tech is first and foremost redesigning traditional care by improving access and customizing the experience. Virtual therapy apps such as TalkSpace, BetterHelp and Amwell give patients the ability to call, text and video teleconference with professional counselors on their schedule and in the comfort of their own home. These frictionless options, often a fraction of the price of clinic appointments, serve individuals with time-constraints or those in rural areas who lack access to care.
Internet-Based Support Groups
Many people don’t feel comfortable attending support groups in their hometowns. Others don’t have the time during regular meeting hours. According to Lena H. Sun of The Washington Post, websites such as the Big White Wall have offered alternatives in the form of Internet support groups.
Since the Big White Wall allows users to remain anonymous, people can feel comfortable revealing their struggles and engaging with other participants. Sun noted that the site offers Talkabouts, which allow users to communicate with one another, as well as educational resources and courses led by mental-health professionals.
Mental Health Apps
There is an app for everything these days, from shopping lists and banking apps, to apps for productivity and weather forecasting. Mental health apps, however, have proven to be very useful. The very first apps appeared around 2009 and since then, many more have been developed.
Apps can be used anywhere, as they are tied to a mobile device rather than a desktop computer. This portability makes them incredibly useful, especially for the younger generation, who are more likely to suffer from stress and anxiety. Mental health and wellness apps tend to focus on three key areas: mood, stress, and anxiety. Apps come and go, as you might expect, but the most popular apps include Calm, Moodnotes, Headspace, Pacifica, and Talkspace. Take a look at those websites and download the apps to your phone.