Technology has played a key role in transforming many aspects of daily life, from smartphones and other appliances to self-driving cars. Artificial intelligence is even making inroads into the health care industry, though it has yet to be utilized much in the field of mental health. That may be about to change.
Mental health has long had a stigma in the United States. Though it affects millions of Americans, only recently have we opened up and started talking about it. While this newfound openness is a welcome change from a past in which patients were hidden away in institutions and the whole topic was swept under the rug, it doesn’t change the fact that the actual way we treat mental disorders is hopelessly outdated. From clunky tracking systems to the way mental disorders are diagnosed and treated, it often feels like this important area of medicine is much further behind the times in comparison to health care as a whole.
As we make great progress in using information technology to improve modern society, we are seeing explosive growth in self-care apps. Focused on promoting wellbeing, meditation apps like Calm are trending like never before. The technology responsible for this has the power to help people understand themselves better, focusing on their own mental health, and enables providers to develop more personalized treatment plans. The majority of conversations about mental health are anecdotal in nature, and therefore, unreliable or incomplete. An honest assessment of mental health depends on tracking variables such as mood, habits and emotions. Couple this with virtual appointments with mental health practitioners and true progress can be made.
It’s vital for people to be able to track their mood, habits and emotions while simultaneously being able to browse, book and attend virtual appointments with mental health specialists. This is something my company is actively addressing with our own technology, and it’s something other players in the industry should also keep in mind when designing their solutions.
Smartphones are already being used to improve brain health via “digital phenotyping”—innovative new technology that looks at an individual’s digital footprint to determine their overall health and wellbeing. As the technology catches on and is used more widely, it will become predictive in nature, able to determine how users are feeling and make targeted recommendations for improved wellbeing based on that data. This information can then be shared with family members or friends, letting them know when the user is particularly troubled or having suicidal thoughts. Privacy is always a concern, so it will be important to let the user determine whether or not their data can be shared.
Regardless of the challenges, technology has primed to improve mental health care…something that is long overdue.