Mental health continues to be a growing concern in modern times. COVID-19 especially has forced many people to confront mental health challenges like never before. With months-long lockdowns, there were bound to be issues coming up, and mental health was a major one. The statistics support this; depression and anxiety cases were up, domestic abuse and worse, even suicide cases rose.
Moreover, the global rate of digitalization has not helped. It has in many ways made things worse. Smartphones for all their advantages have made mental health worse. Digitally naïve kids live more and more of their lives on social media and most of us know all too well the effects that can have on someone’s self-esteem.
Meanwhile, the opioid crisis remains to be just that; a crisis. People are taking more pills to manage pain and anxiety than ever before. And it’s not just in the developed world, even people in developing nations who face more severe cases of depression due to the economic situation are turning to drugs to alleviate their ‘pain’. This has not been helped by increasing internet connectivity which for all its benefits has exposed more people in the developing world to the harmful effects of social media.
Mental Healthcare Gap
Although awareness about mental health has grown in recent years there has not been a correlating growth in mental healthcare solutions. There still remains a huge gap in solutions for patients all over the globe.
In the USA for instance (the most progressive nation in mental health in my opinion) 56% do not get the treatment they need. 8% of youth, who are the most affected group, do not have access to mental health through their insurance. Costs specifically have been a big hindrance for about 47% of adults who cannot afford mental treatment.
Globally, mental health remains to be a big problem. A 2017 study estimates that up to 792 million people live with some form of a mental disorder. This is slightly more than one in ten people globally at 10.7%.
Fortunately for us, technology, which has exacerbated the crisis, has also been a solution. Many innovators have been able to leverage new technologies such as big data and AI to come up with novel solutions to tackle this ever-pressing problem.
Here are a few interesting ways that technology is helping to tackle mental health challenges in a digitalized world.
Mobile Apps and Websites
The internet for all its negatives when it comes to mental health owing to social media can actually be a powerful force for good. With smartphones and computers, patients can access therapy in the comfort and privacy of their homes. This works well to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness in the workplace or at school.
The rise of telemedicine especially during the pandemic is a sign of the rising demand for remote healthcare all over the world. And, fortunately, companies and innovators have noticed this and are developing solutions to meet this ever-rising demand. So much so that experts say the market is saturated. Some have even gone as far as to call telemedicine an industry that has gone bust. However, a few still lead the way in active users and buy-in from corporate partners.
Talkspace is one of the largest teletherapy startups offering members confidential therapy with over 2000 licensed therapists serving close to a million users worldwide. Moreover, it has gained quite a lot of PR from star swimmer Michael Phelps.
This platform prioritizes engagement via text chat and video chat for online therapy and counselling. On 7 Cups users can connect with a listener (usually a counsellor, not a mental health professional) instantly in a safe space or connect to strangers in their online community.
An upstart in this industry but one with a lot of potentials. Youmedico makes unique uses of big data and AI to match over 1 million medical professionals to prospective patients all over the globe. Moreover, with plans to launch soon in Kenya, Youmedico will be one of the few apps to provide solutions in a region that has been historically marginalized.
There are several startups in this space with Apple definitely at its head. Although the majority of them are focused on wearables for fitness and wellness, companies such as Feel and Lief provide wearables that focus on heart rate and breathing for detecting stress and anxiety levels and milder levels of mental illness.
AR and VR
Augmented reality and virtual reality have recently proven to be effective for treating various phobias. An image of high altitude can for instance be used to treat people with a fear of heights.
They can also be useful for meditation and stress by building immersive environments and using detection to treat anxiety and other more severe behavioural issues as well. VR is effective for cognitive behavioural therapy because everything the patient tries and experiences in a virtual environment can be tracked.
Mental health remains to be a tough challenge in a digitalizing world. Technology for all its faults can be leveraged to create unique solutions for a healthcare gap that traditional medicine has been unable to serve.