According to a study, every one in four people across the world suffers from mental health ailments or neurological disorder at some point in their lives. Anxiety and depression are the most common ailments, costing the global economy about USD 1 trillion annually. Despite these alarming reports, there is a lot of taboo surrounding discussion on mental health disorders in society, which results in discouraging people from admitting to illness and reaching out for support.
However, modern technology has made it possible for people to bypass this taboo in several ways. High-speed internet has already enabled therapists to conduct anxiety counselling sessions over secure video conferencing at reduced costs (compared to traditional clinic settings). Tech visionaries are coming up with innovations to identify and manage symptoms. Here are some of the ways in which technology is influencing approaches to psychiatric care.
- Smartphone Apps
Apps do not replace the required medical care but they support it in different ways. They allow users to track moods changes, join support groups, gain information, improve memory, and manage stress through meditation among other usages. Some apps are also affiliated with academic research institutions or government agencies. These apps are useful in treating mild to moderate forms of illness. These apps are available for both android and iOS users.
- Virtual Reality (VR) treatments
Used largely in exposure therapy, VR applications simulate situations in which psychosomatic triggers occur, but in in a controlled and safe environment. This exposure helps patients get comfortable with situations to the extent that they no longer trigger anxiety. VR has proved to be quite useful in treatment of anxiety disorders, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. Google’s Daydream and Facebook’s Oculus are examples of VR headsets that could potentially push such exposure therapy to a wider audience.
- Artificial intelligence
Researchers are trying to engage machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence to collect and interpret data on human behaviour, especially data related to stress and anxiety. It is proven that people approaching depression have changes in their speech and behaviour. An AI-based behaviour tracker on the smartphone can go a long way in identifying such changes that even doctors and family members can’t.
For example, Woebot is an AI-based talk therapy chatbot created by a team of Stanford psychologists and AI experts. Priced at USD 39 per month, Woebot engages users in cheeky and personalized interactions while checking on them once every day.
- Wearable gadgets for behaviour tracking
Wearable technology that track physical activity, heart rate and sleep patterns are now being included to pick up data points. For example, Pose by Opter Life is a bamboo pendant that deals with aspects of well-being like posture, sleep, stress, meditation and breathing.
Several start-ups and researcher have also come up with gadgets that use sensors and smartphone voice data to track behaviour patterns such as, nature of websites visited, frequency of calling a specific number, patterns in typing text messages, spelling mistakes and even if the user typed messages slowly when feeling tired or sluggish. These gadgets are especially useful to monitor health indicators among elderly and young children.