ReTHINKing Mental Wellness: Technology and Treatment

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.

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 Mental health afflictions (as well as suicides)
have been on the rise in the last decade, and while research hasn’t hd a breakthrough in drug medication in nearly 30 years, technology has been here to help. Let’s explore the myriad ways new technology is aiding the mental health community.

To begin, 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.

Perhaps the most widely used form of technology is Virtual Reality (VR). A growing number of clinicians are using VR though it still is not available to everyone. A booming technology for mental health is in the form of applications (apps); accessible by anyone with a smartphone or computer. Technological advances like applications provide a readily available support option for patients. Using a downloaded app for free or minimal cost, in the privacy of your own home, is convenient advancement in the what has been available before. The hope is that these applications will bridge the large gap in managing patients’ care, as well increase awareness for patient access to care.

From eating disorders to apps specifically designed for university aged kids, these links share helpful insights and reviews of some of today’s
helpful technology:
Wired – WIRED examines the clinical effectiveness of some mental
health apps.
MindCharity – Apps For Mental and physical Wellbeing, anxiety,
depression, eating disorders, and more.
PushDoctor – They found 8 mental health apps you can use to
manage problems and help you take control of your mental health.

Applications and technology using the internet can do everything from symptom searching to offering mood-lifting exercises. Smart technology can examine and track triggers or relapses such as entering a manic or deeply depressed period, as well as physical symptoms like increased heart rate and changes in brain activity. Alerts can let you and your clinician know the state of a user’s health and provide live time awareness to warning signals and symptoms, hopefully in time to use preventative measures before an illness ‘episode’.

While thousands of apps are available and plenty more are in development, here we explore the most highly rated.

Pacifica – A free mental health app (available on iOS, android and web) that helps with stress, anxiety and depression. Used by 1.9 million people, Pacifica offers science based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), mindfulness meditations, health and mood tracking and a peer support community. You can also use their search tool to find a therapist locally or a teletherapist.

Fisher Wallace Stimulator – This device is worn as a headband and is cleared by the US FDA to treat depression, insomnia, anxiety and body pain. It’s worn as a headband and uses electrical pulse to stimulate serotonin and other neuro-chemicals. You must get authorization to use the device but can quickly do so on the website.

Spire – The Spire Tag is a small device designed to disappear into your clothes (you can even throw it in the wash) that monitors your physical activity, sleep and breathing. The tag integrates with your phone and offers reminders based on the monitoring, such as “You seem tense. How about taking a deep breath?”

Sober Grid – Rated the number one sobriety app, Sober Grid has a standard days sober time counter, provides motivation and connects you to a global community of sober support to reach out to at any time. The grid allows you to meet with other sober folks nearby and, just like facebook, the app has its own newsfeed. It’s also free and available on iOS and Android.

Because these applications are relatively new, there hasn’t been enough time for long term studies and efficacy tests on some of the above. However, it’s an exciting time for mental health across the board when anyone with the ability to text can access a professional 24/7, and research is being determined how best to integrate mental health professionals with new technologies. In the near future we can look forward to smart applications with the ability to know our behaviour well enough to preempt and episode before it occurs.

I encourage you to speak to a professional about how new technologies can aid in your care management plan. And if you haven’t yet seen someone, consider this a sign to make the call or use technology and send an email. Together we can explore how treatment will improve your life.

To your good health,

Noel McDermott

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