How Technology Is Transforming Mental Health Treatment

The technological advances that have improved the delivery of healthcare services for physical illnesses have also unlocked new possibilities for mental health treatment.

Web and mobile-based technologies offer patients a way to track their symptoms and reach out for support while providing clinicians with more avenues for intervention.

In this highly stressful time, technology can help fill the gap when doctor’s visits aren’t possible, complement traditional therapy methods, and serve as a useful introduction to individuals that are reluctant to seek treatment. Here are some of the ways technology is transforming mental health treatment.  

Telehealth

Telehealth or telemedicine allows an individual to consult with his/her doctor through phone or video call. The technology is proving to be especially relevant in this pandemic when shelter-at-home orders keep us from physically visiting the doctor. 

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Online counseling expands access by offering a solution to residents in remote areas and people that might be uncomfortable during one-on-one sessions. It can also reduce the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health conditions.

To complement telemedicine, you can instantly connect with a trained counselor through 24/7 crisis centers. 

Internet-Based Support Groups

Various social media groups and online forums offer a safe, non-judgmental space for people to share their struggles. Under the cloak of anonymity, individuals can freely air their thoughts and engage with other participants for re-affirmation.

They can also access a list of educational materials to guide them in processing their negative emotions. 

Virtual Reality Technology

This relatively new technology offers a way to treat patients who have post-traumatic stress disorder. This treatment involves repeatedly exposing the patient to the traumatic event in a controlled environment until the event no longer triggers stress and anxiety.

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VR technology is useful in treating military veterans who have PTSD. Still, there’s considerable potential to use this technology to complement the treatments of people with phobias, depression, and anxiety.  

Mobile Apps

Mental health apps appear to be the new frontier of mobile healthcare, with various apps attempting to address a wide range of psychological concerns. 

Convenience, anonymity, improved coverage, reduced cost, and consistency are some of the benefits of mental health apps. Some of the popular categories include: 

  • Self-Management 

These apps help users manage their mental health daily, either by setting medication reminders or completing activities designed to relieve stress or anxiety. 

Some self-management apps work in tandem with wearable equipment to collect physiological information like your heart rate or blood pressure, giving your medical provider a better understanding of your progress or alerting them for any warning signs.   

  • Skills Training Apps

Through a different learning experience or delivering therapies using interactive formats, users can gain and enhance healthy coping skills. 

For example, there’s an app designed for anxiety that requires you to create a list of the activities that bring you the most worry and guides you through a step-by-step process to conquer these fears using cognitive-based therapy strategies.  

  • Illness Management

These kinds of apps usually embed some form of self-management, but go further to connect you to a peer counselor or healthcare provider for further assistance.   

Look for mental health apps that offer professional service as well. This type of therapy has earned a growing interest because of its convenience and accessibility. What used to be only available in the hospital and therapy centers is now easily accessed from the comfort of your home with the internet and your internet-capable gadget. 

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Since these apps deal with highly personal and sensitive information, make sure to carefully evaluate the apps to know which are trustworthy. Although data can enhance an algorithm’s predictive power, it tends to operate in gray areas that straddle the lines between surveillance and privacy.

Go the extra mile and look up information about the app developer. What are their credentials? How about the terms and conditions? Read the fine print. If you can’t find any information about the app or the developer, search for the treatment upon which the app is based.

To make an informed choice about which mental app is right for you, seek your healthcare provider’s advice. Since they have your medical records, they are in the best place to evaluate which apps can support your ongoing therapies. Ask what apps would they recommend – a passive symptom tracker or one that has more of a human touch? 

Final Thoughts

Even before the pandemic, the US was already grappling with a growing mental health crisis. Preliminary studies suggest that the situation will only worsen as depression and anxiety symptoms appear to have notably increased for the general population. 

If lessons from the previous Ebola and SARS epidemics are any guide, the psychological toll will last long after the outbreak has ended, straining a healthcare system that’s already showing signs of stress.

Faced with these daunting tasks, there is a need to scale up technology-based tools and solutions to reach vulnerable and underserved segments of the population. 

Although apps and internet support groups cannot replace a licensed professional, they can provide much-needed support at this crucial time when we need to create and maintain meaningful connections, build healthy coping habits, and manage stressful experiences while keeping apart. 

Now more than ever, it is imperative to make full use of the digital tools at our disposal to support each other during and after this crisis.

 

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