Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Expanding Use of Technology for Mental Health

More than half of people with mental illness are not receiving the care they need, but technology is offering those in need more ways to access mental health help.  While using technology is not new, it is rapidly changing and expanding.  A June 2015 World Health Organization report notes that 6 six percent of all mobile health apps relate to mental health.

A look at a few examples of the ways technology is improving mental health care:

Assess/ Track Symptoms
Technology is being used to help individuals and their physicians track depression symptoms. For example, one app helps monitor mental health by tracking in real time responses to depression screening questions. Many emergency rooms are now using remote access to psychiatrists to provide psychiatric services  that would not otherwise have been available.

Access to Therapy Remotely
Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and other talk therapies are increasingly being provided remotely.  A recent study looking at computer and Internet based CBT found it to be a promising treatment for youth with depression and anxiety.

Technology allows people to connect to others for sharing, understanding, support and community.  For example, the Love is Louder campaign, a collaboration of The Jed Foundation, MTV and Brittany Snow, has hundreds of thousands of participants in its efforts to address issues such as bullying, discrimination, loneliness and depression. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has developed a support app, NAMIAir (Anonymous, Inspiring, and Relatable), for people looking to connect and talk about mental health. It is designed for use by individuals with mental illines and their families and allows people to share experiences and receive encouragement.

Numerous apps are available to help people who have difficulty with communication, such as many people with autism, to express themselves.  The apps are changing the lives of many children and adults with autism.

But experts offer a word of caution when considering using technology to aid in mental health. One recent review of smartphone uses for mental health concluded that “mobile apps for mental health have the potential to be effective in reducing depression, anxiety, stress and possibly substance use.” However, the authors caution that few have been tested and found effective and they call for further research and possibly regulation.(1) Another group of researchers looking at smartphone apps for anxiety concluded that the apps can be useful for self-help and can complement existing treatment. However, they also cautioned that patients should be wary about security, privacy, and effectiveness.(2)

(1) Donker T, Petrie K, Proudfoot J, et al. Smartphones for Smarter Delivery of Mental Health Programs: A Systematic Review
(2) Chan S, Torous J, Misra S, et al. Smartphone apps for anxiety: A Review of Commercially Available Apps Using a Heuristic Review Framework. Poster presentation at Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, 2015.

By Deborah Cohen, Senior Writer, APA

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