The use of mental health care technology can help diagnose and treat mental disorders much more effectively than traditional methods. It can significantly help people overcome their mental health problems, ensuring a happy life while overcoming the stigma associated with mental illness.
Mental disorder is a common health problem throughout the world. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five adults in the US suffer from mental illness. Mental illness is a really serious health condition, and it can greatly affect one’s moods, thoughts, and actions and hence can deteriorate the overall quality of life. According to the World Health Organization, one in four people globally will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some time in their lives. Hence, steps should be taken to treat mental health conditions immediately. To that end, the use of mental health care technology can be a savior for people suffering from mental illness.
How Mental Health Care Technology Can Help Improve Human Life
Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) have been adopted recently in the medical field to improve the physical well-being. However, mental health still does not receive enough attention. The accurate implementation of technologies across the healthcare sector for the purpose of mental health care can help treat mental disorders and eventually lead to a better quality of life for patients. Let us see how technology can help improve mental health:
Using AI for Mental Health
With the constant advancement in AI technology, it is now possible for a mental health patient to directly communicate with the mental health practitioner online. This whole process of communication is widely referred to as ‘E-therapy’ and is done in real time. The mental health patient can initiate the conversation with the mental health therapist either through phone conversations, online chats, emails, or video conference. One of the live examples of the use of online technology to communicate with a mental health counselor is an AI-powered chatbot. Many people across the world go through depression very often. AI-powered chatbots have been specially developed to help people fight with their intrusive thoughts and depression. Woebot, a popular mental health chatbot, is an AI-based conversational agent that can monitor people’s mood and help manage their mental health condition by improving the way they think or behave. This chatbot uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to identify your negative thoughts and help eliminate it with proper guidance. The chatbot encourages users to check in every day and asks them about their day to day activities. For instance, every day, the chatbot asks, “How your day was?” Based on the emoji the user replies with, it judges their mood. Based on the emojis they reply with every day, it will create a chart, and once in a while it will talk to patients using CBT techniques. The chatbot will then teach you about how to improve yourself and will help instill positive thinking. The chatbot also offers quizzes that enlighten users about cognitive distortions and help them recognize negative words, hence improving their cognitive skills. Similarly, a number of such AI-powered chatbots have been developed and are currently available in the market that can help improve our mental health.
Using VR for Mental Health
With an increase in the number of VR headset manufacturers globally and their affordability, VR headsets are now used to treat mental conditions. According to a report, VR technology can help treat anxiety. A Silicon Valley-based startup company manufactures VR headsets that help treats mental illness such as anxiety, fear, and depression. It does not utilize an internet connection and can work with the help of Bluetooth feature. One mental health disorder for which VR headsets can be effectively used by psychiatrists to treat their patients is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For instance, someone suffering from PTSD after a car accident and is unable to heal from the traditional therapy methods can undergo the VR-based treatment. With the VR headsets, the therapist is able to recreate the entire scenario related to the accident in a virtual environment as indicated by the patient. With the help of the recreated scenario, the patient can visualize the entire scene and express his feelings about what he is going through to the therapist. Thus, with a number of VR-based therapy sessions, the therapist could greatly help the patient overcome the mental disorder. Daniel Freeman, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford, has already developed VR programs that can help people suffering from Paranoia. “The results were remarkable. From just 30 minutes in VR, there were large reductions in paranoia. Immediately afterwards, more than half the patients no longer had severe paranoia. It was small and short-term, but the results do show great potential.’’, says Daniel Freeman.
Using Computer Vision for Mental Health
The Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) at the University of Southern California has developed a virtual interviewer named ‘Ellie.’ Ellie can scan people's facial expressions and body postures with the help of a web camera and scanner to understand the types of questions to be asked. Based on the questions being asked, Ellie can detect what type of mental disorder someone is suffering from. Although Ellie does not completely act like a real psychiatrist, it can greatly help the concerned mental health practitioners’ deal with their patients with ease. For instance, while having a conversation with someone Ellie monitors facial expressions and body movements of the user and takes note of the user’s low gaze attention to determine if the user is suffering from a mental illness.
Using Big Data for Mental Health
Big data technology is reinventing our society and thus, can be a great tool for integrating and analyzing mental health data. This can eventually be used by psychiatrists to create authentic mental health diagnoses and treatment strategies. This data can be collected from different people across social media sites and from mental health care centers and the diagnoses and treatment plans can be formulated by the psychiatrists accordingly. Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European Commissioner for Health & Food Safety, is currently looking at the potential of big data to help improve mental health. “Treatments are most effective when they are delivered to the right people, at the right time, in the right way. Currently, we don’t know what mental health treatments will work for whom, and this wastes valuable time, money – and most devastatingly, lives. Big data could be the key to changing this, creating personalized care for people facing a mental illness.’’, says Vytenis Andriukaitis.
Although there has been an increase in the use of technologies such as AI, VR, and big data in the healthcare sector, the potential of the mentioned technologies are still not fully utilized for the purpose of mental health. Also, not many people are aware of the technological development involving the treatment of mental disorders. According to a recent study, majority of the people with low distress levels are not getting treatment from mental health practitioners, but are rather getting treatment from primary care physicians. One of the major reasons behind the majority of people not getting treated from mental healthcare professionals is probably a lack of awareness of the mental healthcare services being provided. The other reason might be the enormous amount of fees charged for treatments. Therefore, proper awareness should be created about mental health service providers, and the importance of mental health care should be advocated at workplaces as well as medical centers. Also, the cost-effectiveness that comes with technology-based mental healthcare treatment should be promoted. Hence, the effective use of mental health care technology can help in changing the way society views and acknowledges mental illness.
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