According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 4 people globally will be affected by mental health disorders during their lives. The WHO also reports that more than 300 million people around the world suffer from depression and more than 260 million deal with anxiety disorders (and many of them live with both). The 2019 United States of Stress Report found nearly 33% of Americans have visited a doctor for stress-related symptoms, and 57% of respondents reported feeling paralyzed by stress.
For those suffering from mental health disorders, the burden can sometimes feel like an invisible weight and relief for those suffering from mental health issues may seem out of reach. However, many companies are working to help alleviate some of that burden by developing new technologies to help people better manage their mental health.
In the U.S., there are approximately 34 licensed psychologists for every 100,000 people, and 117 million people live in areas where the ratio of mental health professionals to residents is 30,000:1. That shortage can be mitigated through online therapy, especially for those living in areas with limited access to licensed mental health professionals. Online therapy can also be extremely helpful for those who are afraid of the stigma surrounding mental health disorders or those whose schedules prevent them from being available during the traditional hours for an office visit.
Online therapy company Talkspace has a network of more than 3,000 certified, practicing therapists, and they help match users to the right therapist based on their specific needs. It costs about the same as in-office therapy and even accepts some health insurance plans.
Mood Monitoring Apps
Symptoms of mental health issues are often swept under the rug, which can prevent others, and even ourselves, from noticing when our mental health is beginning to weigh more heavily on us and may require some action. Mood monitoring apps can help users recognize their own mood patterns, identify any potential issues, and keep track of recurring feelings.
RealifePortal allows users to log their moods each day at various times, and keep track of details like intensity, location, conditions, and impact. Having a log of all of one’s emotions can help users draw connections they may have otherwise missed and can help them manage their mental health more clearly. Additionally, this app will even respond with actionable ways for users to improve their mental health and feel better.
Virtual Reality Treatments
Virtual reality (VR), a fun way to immerse users into video games, has been recognized as an effective way to help those suffering from mental health disorders. Scientists have tested VR treatments for soldiers living with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a means of exposure therapy. VR headsets use images and sounds to bring patients back to the source of their stress, and therapists then help these individuals discuss their trauma and become desensitized to their triggers, making day-to-day life much easier to manage.
Yale scientist Sarah Fineberg uses computer games and VR to help understand the feelings of social rejection that individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) face each day, and The Cornerstone Partnership uses VR scenarios to help those in the foster care system understand how abuse affects children in order to help them build positive relationships and avoid future mental health issues.
Mindfulness and meditation have long been cited as ways to alleviate stress and boost mental wellbeing. These apps allow users to tune into the moment and calm their minds through meditation, breathing pattern activities, and awareness exercises. Users have reported experiencing more positive emotions over time.
Headspace, for example, helped users decrease symptoms of depression and increase positive emotions in just 10 days, according to a study by Lancaster University. Another app, Smiling Mind, is a meditation-focused tool designed by psychologists and educators and can be used by those as young as 7.
At a time when stress and mental health disorders are talked about more openly and treated with greater care and respect, technology companies are able to offer users innovative ways to help improve their mental health.
As the stigma surrounding mental health conditions continues to lessen and technology allows for new ways to connect with professional help, apps and online services designed for support have many new solutions for users that can help them achieve a more positive day-to-day experience.