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One in every four people in the world suffers from mental health disorders. | Photo source Spire Health

6 innovative ideas to support mental health

Innovative Ideas

One in every four people in the world suffers from mental health disorders. Digital technology could provide an opportunity to change this.

It is estimated that one in every four people in the world suffers from mental health disorders.

While a structured effort to improve mental health is included in the public health strategy of most governments, many people do not seek treatment. According to the most recent data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, almost 20 per cent of people in the UK who screened positive for a psychotic disorder had not received any sort of treatment. 

Digital technology provides an opportunity to change this. By delivering mental health services differently, there is hope that a greater number of people will be able to access the help they need. 

Technology also presents an opportunity to tackle mental health across the globe. At present, most developing countries struggle with the persistent lack of skilled human resources in health fields. As a result, millions of people in developing countries lack access to any sort of support. 

However, 56 per cent of the global population has access to the internet and almost 50 per cent are expected to use a smartphone by 2021. Digital technology is fast becoming an indispensable component of our lives. While a concern that technological dependence is making matters worse, it could also present a valuable opportunity to better support mental health.  

Anticipation about the plethora of opportunities has led to a cascade in app development, with thousands of mental health apps already available. However, such a wide variety of options naturally raises conflicting advice and uncertainty, and there is very little knowledge about the true effectiveness of these apps. In such a sensitive field, the need for greater regulation is recognised and there is still a long way to go before the industry matures. We are at the beginning of the mental health wellbeing innovation journey.

From apps that offer free mental health counselling, wearable headsets that treat depression and sensors that measure emotional wellbeing, here are six of our favourite mental health innovations we’ve seen in recent months.

1. APP PROMISES TO MAKE EACH AND EVERY DAY A GOOD DAY

Photo source Moodrise App

A new app, called Moodrise, is designed to brighten your day. Developed by AeBeZe Labs, the app promises to help you feel better by targeting six appealing states of mind, including happiness, confidence and focus.

You choose the mood and the app feeds you photos, videos and other online content, specially approved by mental health specialists to improve “your experience on planet earth”. Constant exposure to negative news, comments and online content is getting us down. Health services aren’t keeping pace. Major depression is on the rise. The app, Moskowitz says, is like a “digital vitamin” that should be taken daily for good mental health. The approach is more scientific than curated cute puppy videos. As sweet as they are.

2. BREATHING SENSOR REVEALS COGNITIVE AND EMOTIONAL STATE

Photo source Spire Health

US company Spire creates sensors for measuring breathing to empower people to take control of their mental and physical health. Users can attach it to the clothes they wear the most and it will monitor both breath and heart rate. Spire claims the Health Tag is the world’s smallest consumer tag. It’s also discrete and does not require charging as its batteries last up to a year and a half.

After collecting data from the wearer, the Spire Health Tag uses advanced algorithms to classify the breathing patterns. These classifications are created based on data from laboratory studies relating to respiration and cognitive and emotional states. Having classified the breathing pattern, the Spire Health Tag can determine the wearer’s cognitive and emotional state. It relays this information to the wearer via an accompanying Spire app to help improve sleep, reduce stress and encourage an active lifestyle. In addition, the app allows users to view their progress metrics over time.

3. RESEARCHERS CREATE CUBES TO MONITOR WORKERS’ WELLBEING

Photo source Shridhar Gupta on Unsplash

Researchers at Australia’s Deakin University have created a smart cube that monitors workers’ wellbeing. Cube Comfort Monitors (also known as ‘Baby Cubes’ due to their size) contain sensors that measure conditions in the workplace.

The cubes are small enough to sit on a standard desk. Data on room temperature, humidity, light intensity, light temperature, sound levels and air quality indicators like CO2 and volatile organic compounds, is transmitted to a cloud-based server in real-time. The information is then analysed to reveal problem areas within the room. Office managers can use the information to adjust room temperature or other issues based on workers’ needs.

4. WEARABLE HEADSET TREATS DEPRESSION

Photo source Flow Neuroscience

Sweden-based health tech company Flow Neuroscience is developing an alternative treatment for depression. The new device Flow is a medical-grade headset for brain stimulation. It combines psychology, technology and neuroscience. The headset sends out gentle electric pulses through a patient’s brain, targeting the part of the brain affected by depression. This technique – Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) – aims to encourage the brain to change in specific areas over time.

The treatment plan that Flow Neuroscience instructs users to follow is to wear the headset for 25 minutes per day for 10 days. While doing so, users should use Flow Neuroscience’s accompanying app which has activities designed to help change the negative behavioural patterns that are a symptom of depression. After the initial 10 days, users should reduce their headset use to twice per week for about a month.

5. CAMPAIGN USES GIANT SMARTPHONE DISPLAYS FOR SUICIDE AWARENESS

Photo source Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM)

In the UK, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) has launched an eye-catching campaign featuring large, interactive digital displays that resemble smartphones.  The “Call for Help” campaign aims to break stigmas around mental health.

The screens’ purpose is to show how frequent the CALM helpline receives calls. They are connected to the live helpline. A loud ringtone will alert those nearby when a call is incoming and will then display “call in progress.” The displays have been placed in London, Manchester and Birmingham.

The CALM helpline gets over 200 calls per day. To raise awareness in the past, CALM has experimented with other bold awareness campaigns, including one that used 84 mannequins and put them on the ledges of London’s ITV Southbank buildings.

6. APP OFFERS FREE MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELLING ANYWHERE, ANYTIME

Photo source Ben White on Unsplash

A UK startup is offering an app that gives free access to registered mental health professionals. Called Spill, it is offered for free to employees and students of participating companies and universities. The chat-based app features an on-demand service in which callers can reach out for help anytime. They are matched with counsellors and therapists affiliated with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

The app encourages contacting counsellors to talk about everyday stresses, not just mental health crises. It also strives to make mental health a habit by encouraging daily check-ins and tasks.