May 14, 2020

The Unsung Hero for Mental Health - Technology

The Unsung Hero for Mental Health - Technology
The Unsung Hero for Mental Health - Technology

In any given year, 1 in 5 employed US adults experience a mental health issue like depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

COVID19 has pushed the world into an uncharted territory as it has proved to be a perfect storm of stressors — Right from job loss, economic instability, home schooling, food & health insecurity to the uncertainty of when (or even if) life will return to normal. A simple example — 33 million jobs lost as of May 7, 2020 – huge financial stress, lock down multiplied domestic violence etc. In just a few months, Covid19 has just doubled the stat of the population affected mentally.

Hence, mental health needs urgent addressing and some cool innovative technology solutions are coming to the rescue. Technology is creating lot of hope and excitement for addressing mental health.

Technology is Helping

Tech is helping in tracking, testing, and treating the pandemic and is playing a larger role in helping people manage mental stress and stay connected.

Mobile Platforms

iOS and Android power almost 99% of the smartphones worldwide and helping bridge connectivity between people and care givers. There has been a proliferation of mental health solutions on mobile platforms.

Platforms are providing unconditional support and recovery programs that are imparting brighter prospects for mental health.

Technology Platforms

Mental health solutions via technology and futuristic innovations is moving mainstream faster. A wide range of tech tools are helping combat issues such as burnout, loneliness, and anxiety effectively.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Healthcare organizations are collaborating with AI startups to create solutions using Machine Language (ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP) or Voice technology to detect if they are at-risk or symptoms of mental illness.

  • HoloAsh, a 24/7, non-judgemental companion powered AI, can detect emotions from voice and provides response. This uses NLP to talk to people suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses and offers company to make them feel better and effective counselling too.

  • Instagram is depression screening using ML. Color analysis and algorithmic face detection can reach 70% accuracy in detecting signs of depression. Example — Those who are depressed are more likely to post bluer, grayer, and darker-colored photos.

Fast forward in time with cool technology, our emotions will be the window to our mental state.

Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) & Mixed Reality (MR)

AR, VR and MR are rapidly becoming crucial in the field of mental health. They are helping desensitize people suffering from any kind of stress/depression by re-creating their personal triggers with the help of immersive environments and helping them develop necessary coping techniques.

  • Exposure therapies are gaining strong ground amid these uncertain times — you could wear a pair of headsets and get immersed in experiencing a beach or wildlife. This helps relax your mind to take situations positively.

  • Many anxiety management platforms like RetinasVR use VR to subject patients to their fear, control the environment, track, analyze and diagnose.

  • As the loneliness score is rising, many quarantine chat apps have surfaced to help people bond virtually. This reduces the isolation factor and improves positivity among quarantined families.

These Cyber-Therapies are gaining acceptance quickly for the treatment of many different mental disorders.

Facial & Emotion Recognition

Most human emotions can be deciphered by voice and/or face. The global emotion detection and recognition market will reach $56 billion by 2024 and will bring in more solutions to mental health.

  • Facesoft can identify micro-expressions that are invisible to casual observers and is helping mental health caregivers, police departments, defense where emotions are often in hiding.

  • Beyond Verbal, uses speech detection technology to analyze the tone of analyze the tone of voice and intonation. This can determine the emotional state of isolated people and is proving to be extremely vital in the Covid19 induced anxious world to first res ponders who can assess the situation.

  • People who have fought mental illness and are mental health advocates, say that taking selfies can be self-soothing. In today’s world, people are resorting to taking more and more selfies and emotion detecting algorithms are helping people in need.

Soon, we will for sure see rapid technological advancements with face and voice detection solutions that will be available in mainstream for mental health.

Personal Assistant Devices — Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri and Google Home

As more and more negative news spreads out, personal voice assistants are helping with positivity for mental health.

  • Google Assistant’s feature — “Hey Google, tell me something good,” will share positive news or thoughts that can lessen depression.

  • Just not comforting words, their actions are also saving lives. An instance of domestic abuse in New Mexico was prevented by Google Home that called 911 when gun/threats came into picture.

  • In cases of domestic violence, people often do not know what to do. More than help or reporting, they need someone to talk to and Siri is doing a good job with sexual assault/domestic abuse cases. The virtual helper asks soft questions and analyses confessions.

Social Platforms

At this time of social distancing and isolation, social media is proving to be an invaluable tool to keep in touch with friends & family.

  • Facebook’s new initiative uses proactive detection and NLP to scan posts for patterns of depression/mental illness symptoms — sends resources to at-risk users or their loved ones to effectively intervene on time. Example — Woebot integrated into its Messenger understands a user’s emotional profile and uses cognitive behavioral therapy to create a personalized treatment.

  • TikTok is seeing a lot of honest recaps, confessions, feeling/thoughts during the pandemic. It is emerging as a platform for teens to express themselves creatively when they are feeling so uncertain and uncomfortable during the lock down.

  • Snapchat’sHere for you feature provides proactive support for emotional crisis. An user who types words indicating distress is guided to short anxiety reducing videos in a series of “Chill Pills”.

Gone are the days when social media caused depression/heightened anxiety levels. Today, they are the reason we are having sane mind during the lock down.

Corporate Platforms

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) like RFL( Resources for Living) are helping with stress and anxiety due to Covid19 by helping employees and their families adjust to the new normal. They also offer in-the-moment counselling, digital resources like webinars and videos to reduce anxiety and even assistance with identifying backup childcare for juggling work and family. Some EAP’s are also tied to tele-behavioral health resources to address mental health concerns.

Innovation in Apps

With mobile platforms like iOS & Android coming to the technological rescue, Mobile apps look simple but have been effective in fighting the consequences of the pandemic. Here are some innovative apps:

  • Mental Health Apps — Use device sensors to collect information on behavior patterns of users and any change in patterns can trigger a signal to connect to loved ones or peer counselors or health care professionals.

  • Fun Apps — With educational institutions closed and parents working from home, a family needs more activities to spend productive time together. These are the top fun family apps on istore.

  • Self-Management Apps — With global workforce working from home, there are apps to help with productivity. Ex — Basecamp is a project management app that has message boards, to-do lists, schedules, docs, file storage, real-time group chat, and automatic check-in questions. Find More

It is inspiring to know that there are so many apps to help us through our blues and be more productive, thus reducing stress and mental health.

Technology Augmenting The Future of Mental Health

Technology has already started transforming the mental health landscape at a good pace. Advancements in technology will become a regular part of mental health care — Present & Future. Technology will take big strides in,

  • Facial recognition is the fastest-growing bio metric technology that will grow to $8.93 billion by 2022. With every passing day ML algorithms can read our mind using our face accurately. There will be many more solutions using facial cues to help mankind better mental health.

  • Voice technology will be another game changer that will help develop many specialist systems with AI/NLP. They will be able to comprehend human intent based on emotional processes more than cognitive abilities.

  • Data Science is the missing puzzle without which personalized care cannot reach its destination. With an increase in connected devices, personalized big data will continue to be collected that will help to perfect the AI algorithms for mental health. More patterns will be identified using Neuroscience. The genetics behind mental health will come into picture. As funding continues and increases, improved diagnoses will lead to more appropriate treatments for those suffering from mental illness.

Though everything looks perfect and amazing, it is not. The biggest roadblock slowing the sprint would be ‘privacy’ and will be addressed over time.

Final Thoughts

Though mental health issues have existed in the past — With Covid19 there is increased social isolation, loneliness, health anxiety, stress and an economic downturn which have created a perfect storm that will disrupt the mental health and well being of the world population.

The digital age with technology, for all its problems, has bestowed a real gift: social media, the internet, video, and phone meetings mean that social communication is keeping us together. Technology is finding smarter new ways to measure the mental health of individuals, finding creative ways to boost resilience, and finding ways to treat people physically and virtually.

With great depression looming across the world on all aspects, there will be an unprecedented increase in investments and research that will harness the digital tools and technology to limit mental health issues of our society now and in the future.

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This post was written by Asokan Ashok, the CEO of UnfoldLabs. Ashok is an expert in driving customer insights into thriving businesses and commercializing products for scale. As a leading strategist in the technology industry, he is great at recommending strategies to address technology & market trends. Highly analytical and an industry visionary, Ashok is a sought after global high-tech industry thought leader and trusted strategic advisor by companies.

Entrepreneur. Inventor. Product Ideation. Strategist. Visionary. Evangelist. Architect.