How Technology Is Revolutionizing Mental Health


Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen countless industries transformed by data. Across use cases like smart traffic lights, self-driving cars and AI for diagnosing skin disorders, our world is learning to harness the power of information technology to understand trends and make smarter decisions. Yet, one area that has yet to be optimized is mental health. As destigmatized and important as the topic has become to modern society, we still rely on outdated systems of tracking, classification and prediction to diagnose and treat mental disorders.

A New Frontier In Mental Healthcare

The biggest trend in recent years has been growth in “self-care” apps. According to Sensortower, the top 10 apps of this sort in 2019 grew to a valuation of $195 million. Just this week, Bloomberg reported that the leading meditation app Calm has doubled its last private price and has a $2.2 billion valuation, highlighting the enormous interest in these types of well-being solutions.

Innovative technology can also help people understand themselves better, all while allowing practitioners to provide more personalized treatment. Typically, mental health conversations can be anecdotal and are based on what a specialist and a user can remember since they last saw one another. Most people aren’t tracking important health parameters and only remember the highlights of what happened in between sessions.

It’s vital for people to be able to track their mood, habits and emotions while simultaneously being able to browse, book and attend virtual appointments with mental health specialists. This is something my company is actively addressing with our own technology, and it’s something other players in the industry should also keep in mind when designing their solutions.

Combining the power of anytime and anywhere treatments via smartphones with the power of insights from real practitioners, mental health analytics and artificial intelligence can disrupt and improve current treatments.

Predicting Your Mental Health With An App

Smartphones are already being used to improve brain health on a large scale. Currently, various startups and scientists are developing “digital phenotyping” — a technology that examines people’s digital footprint to detect signals of health or disease. This is a disruptive form of personalized medicine that all us could benefit from. However, many consumers worry that this walks a thin line between a healthcare revolution and intrusive surveillance.

This technology stems from a multidisciplinary field of science, defined by Harvard professor Jukka-Pekka Onnela in 2015 as the “moment-by-moment quantification of the individual-level human phenotype using data from personal digital devices.”

Digital phenotyping is still at its infancy, but once it’s more widely available, it will be able to predict how users are feeling and use that information to make targeted recommendations to users about how to improve their well-being.

Behavidence is a Dublin, Ireland based startup led by world-class scientists that is currently preparing to launch an effective digital phenotyping solution that can provide an accurate psychiatric diagnosis for ADHD.

In the future, digital phenotyping technology will not only provide better diagnoses than humans, but it will even be able to alert a family member or friend if a user seems to be in a troubled state. This capability could be transformative for mental healthcare, particularly in cases where patients have suicidal thoughts or the inclination to harm themselves.

Privacy And Confidentiality Will Be More Important Than Ever

Revelations from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and 23andMe sharing genetic data with pharmaceutical companies are both examples of very concerning developments in what many people are calling “surveillance capitalism.” For advanced mental health applications to work, it is vital to ensure privacy and confidentiality for users because mental health data is highly sensitive and very personal.

Apple has been one of the leaders when it comes to health data and privacy. It’s estimated that 2.2 billion iPhone units have sold to date, and Apple has its health app preinstalled on every one of its devices. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has been a vocal advocate for privacy rights and has spoken out against rival companies Google and Facebook for making money off user data to sell ads.

In an interview with NPR, Cook states, “People will look at this and feel that they can trust Apple. That’s a key part of anyone that you’re working with on your health.”

When designing a mental health solution, it’s important to give your users the chance to select whether they want their data shared with a specialist. If they opt not to have that information shared, organizations should encourage them to track their progress and improve themselves on their own.

At my company, we strongly oppose any commodification of personal data for the purpose of profit-making and have committed to never selling or licensing any of our users’ information. It is my hope that in the future, all companies in the digital health industry can make the same commitment to only using data for adding value to their users.

AI Mental Healthcare Is Coming

New technology has the potential to not only enhance mental health delivery, but also change the way health professionals treat mental health conditions. In the future, artificial intelligence will analyze patient information to predict the course of a mental health condition and even provide on-demand self-led or specialist-led solutions. As this technology comes of age and becomes prevalent, we must also make sure privacy remains a top priority for all consumers.



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