For years, mental illness has been somewhat of a frowned-upon topic. Considering that one in four people will suffer from some type of mental disorder in their lives, finding new ways to approach this subject is in everyone’s best interest.
Thankfully, society has never been more open to discussing and sharing serious personal issues like anxiety, depression, and stress. In this context, digital health initiatives are exploring innovative solutions to support, preserve and improve mental health.
Unfortunately, most clinical professionals and businesses lack the technological expertise to develop powerful software tools for their patients. This is why resorting to software development outsourcing services has become common practice in the industry. As a result, more people are able to access some much-needed help through digital channels. Here a few of the highlights.
Mental health apps have been around since the late 2000s, but there is simply no point of comparison between those early examples and what we have today. However, I can not stress this enough: mobile applications are intended to be used as a compliment, not a replacement, of proper clinical treatment. Although everyone’s case is a bit different, you should trust a medical professional over anything else.
This doesn’t mean that mental health apps are a lesser form of treatment, though. They are just designed for more specific purposes. In fact, by applying concepts such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and skills training, several mobile applications have proven quite effective to treat individuals suffering from conditions like depression or anxiety. For patients with major to critical conditions, mixed treatments are most effective.
The most common services that you can get directly from your smartphone include stress management tools, audio therapy, mood monitoring, meditation assessment, and even online sessions with licensed therapists. But the main benefit mental health apps bring to the table is simple: portability.
Practically everyone has a smartphone today, which means that these apps can be used anywhere and at anytime. This has a huge effect on preventing relapses since users can essentially continue with their treatment throughout the day.
Using VR technology for mental health purposes may sound a little bit far-fetched yet it is something that is happening right now. Simulations are a great way of helping patients face complex personal issues in a surprisingly realistic manner without jumping straight into them. This is commonly known as exposure therapy, which consists of repeatedly exposing patients to a traumatic event in a controlled environment until it no longer triggers mental illness symptoms.
Despite knowing that they are in a virtual environment, studies have shown that patients’ minds and bodies behave as if everything was real. This means that psychologically challenging scenarios can be crafted on demand and at various scales and intensities, providing people with a safe place to exercise their thoughts and behaviors. While this is often seen as impractical on face-to-face sessions, it is a quite useful practice in VR.
The immersive sensory nature of virtual reality helps patients suffering from PTSD, phobias, anxiety, and other similar disorders live their trauma, rather than simply describing it. In the same way, VR treatment allows clinical professionals to document, measure and analyze the results in a more direct and immediate form. This can be very useful when studying the biological factors behind a person’s condition.
When dealing with something as delicate and complicated as mental health, the value of analytics goes further than you may think. With the help of machine learning and big data, clinicians are able to accurately study trends and patterns that are just invisible to the naked eye. This is the type of data that reveals valuable insights that can heavily impact the treatment and diagnosis of mental illness.
Understanding the pathophysiology of mental illnesses has been historically difficult due to the lack of significant amounts of quantifiable data rooted in biology. Big data is the perfect tool for obtaining this type of measurement, which spans from genes to brainwaves and, of course, observable behavior.
In a nutshell, this translates to recognizing biological causes and symptoms that thousands of patients have in common. This information is then linked to actual concepts that contribute to a more precise diagnosis. As a result, clinicians are able to read hard-to-detect variables such as risk factors for mental illness, the effectiveness of medications, or specific circumstances that prevent mental health conditions from developing. Ultimately, this will make mental illnesses easier to understand, categorize and communicate.
The mental health industry is yet to face some major challenges in order to fully incorporate modern technology solutions to its workflow. We still haven’t solved the data sharing and patient privacy problematic, and large amounts of data are very likely to lead to a few unreliable correlations.
The best way to overcome challenges like these is to make use of innovative technologies and push them towards improvement. Don’t think of Big Data or Virtual Reality as ‘futuristic’, but rather as tools that are waiting to be used right now.
Through collaboration, clinicians, researchers, software engineers, and patients can break down the traditional barriers of the mental illness field. In the end, harnessing the power of technology will be a huge step forward for the prevention, assessment, and treatment of mental health.