Technology and mental health might seem completely different concepts, sometimes even antagonistic.
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Living in the digital era is, without any doubt, a challenge, especially for the younger generation, who spends most of their time on their smartphones. Thus, their mental health has started to suffer. But, like in most cases, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. When used correctly, technology can be of great help for your mental well-being.
The Covid-19 pandemic also led to a worldwide anxiety scale due to social isolation, unemployment, and permanent fear of the virus. Therefore, mental health is more important than ever. This is also shown in numbers – as the World Health Organization (WHO) states, depression will have become the biggest healthcare concern, estimated to reach 6$ trillion worldwide by 2030.
Hopefully, specialists are incessantly working on improving technological innovation to serve mental healthcare. And if we’re to look at the various inventions over the last few years, their efforts seem worthy. Technology has gained ground in the mental health sector with state-of-the-art innovations, like:
VR for mental health
If, until now, virtual reality was only a fantasy, now it’s used in various domains, including mental health. Besides entertainment, business, and education, VR can be successfully used in medicine as a powerful weapon against issues like phobias, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Children suffering from Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder, for example, can practice concentrating in a VR classroom. At the same time, individuals with autism can improve their capacity to handle stress during stressful social situations like giving a speech or taking part in an interview. VR headsets also help ease anxiety, which is necessary in these testing times.
Artificial intelligence (AI) might not have the best reputation in movies like “The Terminator.” Still, it has become one of the most powerful tools used in modern medicine in real life. Based on its programming, it can identify an injury on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and thus help the physicians determine the gravity of that lesion.
AI-powered tools have gained popularity starting in 2020 and have expanded rapidly, becoming downright life-changing in 2022. Such tools include AI chatbots, like Wysa and Woebot, which help patients with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). People using these devices will also find them helpful in handling their symptoms between appointments.
Technology has reached a point in which you can use smartphone apps to examine your voice and speech patterns and thus identify a potential sign of emotional distress. One of the most popular apps of this kind is Ellipsis, available on AppStore. Of course, these devices won’t equal human contact, but due to their various uses, they have been welcomed with open arms and hope that they’ll positively impact the vast domain of teletherapy.
It’s already been five years since the first digital pill was FDA-approved, so this concept is no longer a fantasy. Unfortunately, the company that created it went bankrupt, leaving many uncertainties behind. Since then, many companies worldwide have been working to develop such products and bring them to market. These pills are designed to collect data about patients’ compliance to medication due to a microsensor included in them. This way, physicians would be able to monitor patients in real-time and take action if they don’t take their meds properly. This may sound harsh, but if we’re to think about psychiatric patients, things are no longer the same – these individuals are likely to forget to take their prescribed treatment, so they need special monitoring.
However, digital pills are still in the early stages, the reason why many people choose traditional medication. There are various treatment options for treating mental issues like anxiety and depression. One of the most popular trends in treating anxiety these days is represented by CBD products like gummies and edibles. You can find such products on Yummy CBD, for example, and enjoy their calming effects.
Prescriptions as video games
Does it sound too futuristic? Well, it does, but it’s more realistic than ever. With the rise of virtual reality, video gaming has become more and more popular, eventually getting used even in mental healthcare. As we already mentioned, patients with ADHD can improve their focusing in a VR classroom, but so can they when playing video games. The FDA approved the first prescription video game in June 2020, leaving room for no uncertainties: prescription video games can be safely used for mental health purposes. Video games allow people to focus on multiple tasks at once, leading patients to drive measurable enhancements in their mental well-being. Nevertheless, these were specially designed for children between 8 and 12 with ADHD so that young patients will benefit from them only.
Digital symptoms tracking
Manual symptoms tracking can sometimes be time-consuming and doesn’t always provide the best results because it’s human to make mistakes. Opting instead for digital symptom tracking provided with an AI algorithm may be the best solution, particularly for those patients forced to report any new symptoms at each face-to-face appointment. Tools related to mental health symptoms tracking help identify patterns like heart rate, blood pressure, pulse, and even galvanic skin response, making the physicians’ work easier. Plus, there’s no room for errors because these tools provide measurable data in real-time. Companies like Symple offer this kind of service, but more and more companies focus on developing remote monitoring devices.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation
If, until now, patients with resistant depression were treated using electroshock or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which is a quite violent treatment, now they have the chance to be treated with TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation). This means their brain would be exposed to magnets specially designed to target those brain areas that influence mood. Thus, depression-related symptoms like feelings of sadness, worthlessness, or angry outbursts can be alleviated without medication. Data suggests that 47% of people with resistant depression responded to transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is encouraging news. There’s hope that more and more patients dealing with this cruel mental issue can heal with this invention.
Looking toward the future
As experts get more and more knowledge about the mysteries of the human brain and improve technological innovation, the future of the mental health field looks promising.