6 ways digital technology is being used to improve mental health

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6 ways digital technology is being used to improve our mental health

Are we going through a mental health epidemic? The Mental Health Foundation estimates  1 in 6 people experienced symptoms of poor mental health in the past week.  When we read statistics like these it’s easy to see why mental health has become such a hot topic drawing significant attention from our health sector, media, and even politicians; some of whom have even described the issue as a crisis. 

Explanations for the increase in cases of mental health problems and attention around the subject have been hypothesised; one thing that often finds itself at the centre of the debate is tech. 

Discussions around advances in technology, particularly digital, almost run parallel to conversations around mental health. Whether it’s a discussion about links between Instagram likes and depression in young people, or a discussion about the connection between the LED lights on our smartphone displays and production of the stress hormone cortisol, the subjects often find themselves intertwined.

It’s often suggested that we should step away from digital technology in order to take care of our mental health; in today’s society however, that can be easier said than done for a lot of people. We now live in a world where many people depend on their smartphones and laptops for earning money, communicating with loved ones, shopping, and a whole load of other digital applications their everyday lives depend on. So as tech becomes more integrated and intrinsic to our lives, is avoiding it even an option? And if stepping away from tech is unrealistic, then what are the alternatives? 

Maybe it’s time for tech to step up and begin to provide solutions to some of the mental health problems it has contributed to in the past. With this in mind, here are six ways digital tech’s being used to tackle mental health.

1. Digital Support Systems 

Having a lack of support for conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Schizophrenia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and even non-mental health-related conditions such as Autism, can lead to the progression of further mental health issues such as stress, depression and anxiety. Several digital solutions have been developed in response, with the aim of preventing these progressions from occurring. Here are some we think do a great job of supporting people with living with these conditions:

PTSD

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder which can occur when somebody has been through a series of traumatic events such as a natural disaster or a war; which is why it’s often associated with soldiers and veterans. It’s important to remember however that it doesn’t always take something as dramatic as war or a natural disaster, and actually PTSD is actually quite a common issue, with 1 in 3 of us estimated to be suffering

KRTS workplace trauma solutions specialists. By leaning on the expertise of founder Catherine Kerr who has over 20 years experience working with PTSD sufferers, KRTS have been able to help a variety of organisations to strategically prepare for, and respond to workplace trauma. One way they provide support through their digital ‘Trauma support programme’ which is an online resource. 

Other ways digital tech is being used to support PTSD sufferers is through apps like ‘PTSD Coach’. PTSD Coach was developed for US army veterans and offers educational insights into the disorder, as well as self-assessment and coping tools.

Schizophrenia 

Schizophrenia is a long term mental disorder involving a breakdown in perception between thought, emotion and behaviour for sufferers; this often leaves schizophrenics prone to social isolation which is where the UCFS Prime app aims to help. Developed by a professor of psychiatry, UCFS Prime connects schizophrenics to their peers through a social network styled interface which encourages them to socialise in a safe environment. The app also allows users to set goals and track their progress along the way.

OCD

OCD is a fairly common mental health condition where the sufferer is prone to obsessive thoughts, and compulsive behaviours. OCD often starts in early adulthood and can be very distressing and intrusive in the sufferer’s life. One of the most frustrating aspects of OCD for its sufferers is the crippling anxiety despite the fact they’re aware their fears are irrational. 

Apps like Worry Watch try to address this issue by helping users to identify trigger points and track trends in their thinking patterns and trigger response.

Similarly, the app nOCD focuses on Exposure Response Prevention Treatment which relates to helping sufferers to respond more positively to triggers. 

Autism

Although Autism itself is not a mental health issue by definition, other common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety and OCD are significantly more common among autistic people. Often these added problems can stem from a lack of access to appropriate support. 

Brain in Hand is a unique support system designed to help autistic people to cope with professional life. The app helps to reduce anxiety and improve independence for its users and is centred around three main parts: personal-planning, digital self-management tools, and human support responders. 

2. Therapy Online 

Often when discussing mental health, the advice offered at the first point of call is “talk to someone”, but who is it we should talk to? Not everybody can afford a therapist, and free public mental health services are notoriously difficult to access due to overwhelming demand. It’s no surprise then that digital tech is being used to try and break down the barriers between the people who provide help, and the people who need help. 

The app 7 Cups aims to connect people feeling isolated in their battle with mental health with over 160,000 trained volunteers and licenced therapists. The app allows its users to gain instant access to free, confidential and anonymous support they need. 

Where ‘7 Cups’ aims to improve access to support through their app, the Talkspace app aims to improve the convenience of getting professional help. For a monthly fee, ‘Talkspace’ allows its users to choose to complete an assessment which is then used to match them up with a therapist who provides support over message in the app.

3. Meditation and Mindfulness

Purposely focusing your attention on and being aware of things you’re experiencing in real-time is what we refer to as mindfulness. Improving your mindfulness goes hand in hand with improving your mental wellbeing because it trains you to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings, which in turn helps you to spot triggers and early signs of anxiety and depression.

You may be beginning to ask yourself how you can become more mindful? Meditation is one method that has been used for literally thousands of years and is one of the most effective ways of achieving mindfulness. 

Apps like Headspace and Calm are just two (probably the best two) many meditation and mindfulness apps now on the market. The apps offer guided meditation sessions for beginners removing the barriers and allowing them to work their way up to more advanced levels.

4. Mood and behaviour trackers  

If you’re suffering from anxiety and/or depression and you seek professional help, often what you’ll be treated with is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is centred around changing your emotions by identifying and analysing negative and distorted thinking patterns. 

Apps like CBT Thought Record Diary and Youper aim to replace the therapists usually treating patients with CBT, by facilitating the same analysis using features on their app. Users can document negative thoughts, analyse flaws in their thinking, and reevaluate thoughts using the app, reducing the chance of anxiety-inducing situations, and improving their response triggers. 

5. Crisis Response 

Even with the help of all this new tech, managing your mental health can still be really difficult and often overwhelming; and although I would always recommend seeking professional help in times of crisis, it’s still nice to know there are apps out there offering support to people in their time of need. 

The Panic Relief app helps its users to get control over anxiety and panic attacks by showing them the best way to respond and educating them on the signs to watch out for. 

On the other hand, the NotOk app is there when things get really desperate for its users. It was developed by a teenage brother and sister duo as a response to some of their own struggles. The app features a large red button that users can press in times of crisis to alert up to 5 trusted family or friends by sending out an automatic message as well as their GPS location.

Tech’s Role in Mental health

Mental health is a popular yet sensitive issue we hear talked about often in the media despite the fact many of us are still uncomfortable discussing our own issues in public. The increase in conversation and dialogue around the topic is a reflection of the weight of the problem in today’s world and the urgency in which it must be addressed. 

As technology has contributed massively to this problem, it’s only right it begins to bear some of the burden and offer solutions with new innovations and ideas like the ones highlighted in this article; even if it is only a start. 

It’s also worth mentioning that although these technological solutions can be helpful for supporting people in managing their mental health, in their current state, the best solution more often than not is to talk to someone, and seek professional help where necessary.