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Embracing Tech to Transform Mental Health Treatment

For better or for worse, technology has transformed the way we interact with the world every single day of our lives.

And while technology in the form of social media is often squarely pointed as the instigator or exacerbator of poor mental health, what isn’t spoken about anywhere near as often is the fact there is a multitude of new and innovative ways that technology is helping transform and improve mental health treatment as well.

Up-and-coming mental health specialists who are studying counseling, psychology, or an online PMHNP program are already learning about and embracing new technological interventions that are making a serious impact on the way mental health treatment is given. As this reshaping takes place and a greater number of health professionals adopt these technology-led methods, we can be sure to see a revolutionization of the mental health landscape that will continue to shift in unprecedented and beneficial ways and help to tackle the ever-growing crisis.

Technological interventions benefitting mental health now

According to Mental Health America, over 20% of American adults experience mental health issues. One in 10 youths in America also experience major depression that severely impacts their ability to function at school, work, or home, and the percentage of adults reporting serious thoughts of suicide is nearly 5% – totaling over 12.1 million individuals.

The worst part of all this? Over 54% of adults with mental illness do not receive treatment, totaling over 28 million individuals, and an additional 59% of youths suffering from depression do not receive treatment either.

With an estimated 350 individuals for every one mental health provider, the need for technological interventions to help deal with sheer numbers is needed more than ever.

Mobile applications

Widespread use of smartphones lends itself to the development of mental health applications that provide convenient, accessible, and affordable resources for those who may not have access to or the funds for traditional mental health therapy.

These applications can be an important resource and range from mood trackers, guided meditation sessions, breathing exercises to journal prompting – all from your very own pocket. The apps often leverage the basic principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (a psychotherapy aimed at changing unhelpful or unhealthy ways of thinking, feeling, or behaving via self-help strategies), and can help empower those suffering from poor mental to develop healthy coping mechanisms.

By making these techniques accessible, this form of technology can and has helped improve the reach of mental health treatment to the broader community.

Wearable technology

Perhaps the most revolutionary of all physical technologies of late is wearable technology. Smartwatches and fitness trackers are now commonplace and have seamlessly integrated into our daily lives.

While wearable technology is often purchased for its communication or style benefits, it also has the capacity to track physiological changes in your body such as heart rate, sleep patterns, and activity which can provide insights to an individual’s stress and anxiety levels which ties very closely with our mental health state.

Data on this level is invaluable to understanding the triggers and effectiveness of treatment methods, and this real-time, daily feedback would not be possible via any other means.

Telehealth appointments

During the Covid-19 pandemic there was a significant rise in healthcare services offering telehealth appointments – which was happily embraced by the general public.

Telehealth appointments allow mental health sufferers to receive counseling and other mental health services via video calls on apps such as Zoom or Teams. Scripts can also be sent to the patient via text messaage or email.

While there are both benefits and drawbacks of telehealth appointments for mental health, the main issues telehealth appointments help overcome are geographical and physical. By providing healthcare services to individuals living in remote areas where travel is difficult, or for those with mobility issues, it opens up more options for treatment at home to individuals who otherwise may not have sought treatment.

Artificial Intelligence

Healthcare providers are already introducing Artifical Intelligence (AI) into their day-to-day activities, with the possibilities seemingly endless.

As AI can analyze large data sets, it can easily review patient data including past history, recent scans, or imaging and previous patterns and triggers to help build a patient report that identifies care recommendations, highlights potential risks and even predict potential mental health crisis situations.

AI is also being utlized as a first line of support via Chatbots, offering immediate assistance before a healthcare professional will step in.

“Making the rounds” is also no longer as vital it once was with the introduction of portable AI monitoring. Patients vitals can either be reviewed quickly while healthcare professionals are on the go, or automatic administration of certain medications can be programmed into the device, which can significantly reduce response times and provide better outcomes for patients.

The future of mental health and technology

Looking into the future, the integration of technology in mental health treatment is only going to continue to grow and shift the ‘norm’ in healthcare settings.

New and exciting technologies will develop, and if mental health professionals are able to embrace it, less mental health sufferers will go untreated and more effective treatment methods will become available.

Advanced predictive analysis

Developements in AI and machine learning will inevitably focus on predictive analytics. By breaking down large data sets AI is expedited to generate accurate predictive modelling where a potential application may be the detection and prevention of mental health issues before they severely impact an individual’s life.

Genomics and mental health

Genomics is the technological study of an organism’s DNA or genetic material, and with certain mental illnesses known to run in families, it is anticipated it is going to intersect much more closely with mental health in the future. The benefit of this will be more personalised approaches to mental health conditons rather than a “one size fits all” treatment plan.

Virtual and Augmented Reality therapies

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augemented Reality (AR) are advancing every day, and in some cases are already in use as a form of mental health treatment. Immersive and interactive scenarios may be played out to help for strategies and coping mechanisms for sufferers, which can be particularly using for treating conditions such as PTSD and phobias. By doing this in a controlled, virtual environment, patients will remain in a safe environemnt which is not possible via other methods.

Also Read: Edge Computing, Enabling Technology For Efficient Healthcare And Food

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