Current Events Healthcare IT Mental Illness

The future of mental health?

Nature has an interesting article on how mobile technology is being used to treat mental illness.

Estimates suggest that about 29% of people will experience a mental disorder in their lifetime1. Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that many of those people — up to 55% in developed countries and 85% in developing ones — are not getting the treatment they need. Mobile health apps could help to fill the gap (see ‘Mobilizing mental health’). Given the ubiquity of smartphones, apps might serve as a digital lifeline — particularly in rural and low-income regions — putting a portable therapist in every pocket. “We can now reach people that up until recently were completely unreachable to us,” says Dror Ben-Zeev, who directs the mHealth for Mental Health Program at the Dartmouth Psychiatric Research Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire.

How do these apps work?

Several times a day, the app prompts users to answer questions such as “How well did you sleep last night?” or “How has your mood been today?” If users report that they slept poorly, or have been feeling anxious, the app will suggest strategies for tackling that problem, such as limiting caffeine intake or doing some deep-breathing exercises.

Other apps help patients connect and/or communicate with health care professionals, or even alert providers of a potential worrying change in physical activity, mood or behavior. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these apps have not been tested through rigorous studies.  There, is however, some progress.

Between 2013 and 2015, the number of mobile-health trials registered on more than doubled, from135 to 300. And the number of trials specifically focused on mental and behavioural health increased by 32%.

Exciting new technology is on the horizon.  Now, we just need to prove that it works.


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