Technology provides mental health solutions in today’s world

Thanks to a White House proclamation, May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. According to the proclamation, “nearly 44 million American adults, and millions of children, experience mental health conditions each year, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress”. That’s roughly 13% of our population, managing their daily lives with the added weight of a mental health challenge.

As our societal awareness of mental health increases, so are efforts to make support and treatment options accessible to everyone. One way to advance accessibility is through technology. Fitbit and Jawbone both provide wearable products that help users set and track health and fitness goals through monitoring of their daily physical activity, exercise, sleep patterns, eating habits and weight. Both manufacturers encourage users to create and engage a social community through the platform to share their activities and facilitate support.

Daily trackers like Fitbit and Jawbone help users ensure that their basic needs of exercise, sleep, and nutrition is being met — a particularly important foundation for those with mental health challenges. But daily trackers are just the beginning. While technology becomes more sophisticated and widely available, so does the collection of innovative tools. For example, the growth of smartphone apps is extraordinary.

In February, Pew Research Center reported 68% of the 2015 adult population in “advanced economies” owned a smartphone, and although only 37% of adults in “developing economies” reported ownership, that percentage had increased 9% since 2014. The explosion of apps in recent years further demonstrates smartphone popularity. In the mental health category alone, there are roughly 800 apps and the UK’s National Health Service is upgrading their Health Apps Library to include reviews and recommendations for many of these.

Because mental health covers a broad spectrum of topics, most apps specialize. For instance, Headspace promotes mindfulness, calming, and meditation training for your brain. Pacifica and Spire provide anxiety and stress management support. Pala-linq focuses on those recovering from substance abuse. Odds are if you have a particular issue, “there’s an app for that” and if there isn’t, just a hang on a bit, because there probably will be soon. Through the relatively new concept of crowdfunding, some apps are given life through supporter funding. A quick search on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform, reveals a number of app startups like Psychscope, Shae and MyYogaPro.

As with all things in society, the rise of mental health apps and technology is accompanied by a rise in criticism over the effectiveness of these tools. Do they provide real, long-term solutions to those with mental health challenges? One thing is sure, our increasing societal awareness about mental health also means we’re painfully aware not all those needing help have access to it. So, while wait for verdict on effectiveness, at least there are low-cost, timely options available at the touch of a screen for those in need of any help they can get.

— Embrace hope.