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The impact of digital technology on mental health

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Jack Roberts, content marketing specialist, shares some best practice from down under regarding digital technology and mental health services.

The impact of mental health is rapidly increasing, with data showing that nearly one in five adults are diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime, and only half of these people receive treatment. Even without this data, it’s clear that there is a growing need for skilled and experienced healthcare professionals that can offer well-informed mental health interventions. Stigmas attached to mental health can also act as a preventative for those with mental illnesses to seek the treatment that they need.

Mobile apps leading the way

Most people now own a smartphone and have easy access to downloading thousands of different apps at the touch of a button. There has recently been a surge of different mobile phone applications that are designed to help people suffering from a mental illness. Unlike going to a doctor or seeking professional help, mobile phone apps can offer people assistance and treatment from the comfort of their own homes. With apps such as Headspace offering daily meditation sessions and motivational quotes, to apps that monitor daily medication dosages and cognitive behavioural treatments, digital technology is making treatment more accessible for all.

Big data and machine learning

The rise of big data and analytics across all industries are offering increasingly accurate trends and patterns, and the mental health sector is no exception. The correct analysis of large pools of data such as online searches can offer valuable insights into data trends that can impact the treatment and diagnosis of mental illness.

Organisations such as the Black Dog Institute are leading the way in terms of e-mental health research in Australia and specialise in the research, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bi-polar. They are currently running the Ground Truth Project, which is a study that profiles users’ mental health by using machine learning-based analyses of social media conversations.

The idea is that by analysing data from sources that individuals use in everyday life, such as blogging and social media, it will be possible to identify those who are at risk or show signs of mental illnesses. By profiling these social media interactions, new markers and identifiers of mental health may provide invaluable real-time insights into mental health patterns that have the potential to revolutionise treatment and prevention.

“Technology is the key to scale. We may not have therapists able to deliver effective strategies 24/7, have a safety plan available when needed, monitor every risk in the physical environment, or have enough instructors to teach resilience and mental health prevention to every young person,” Dr Christensen said.

What’s next?

Dr Christensen is leading the research which is part of the wider ‘Digital Dog’ project using technology such as online mobile apps, websites and games to treat and support mental health issues. The ground truth project is just one example of harnessing the power of machine learning and big data to provide valuable insights into mental health issues, and it is predicted that by 2030 depression will be the second largest cause of disease burden across the world.

Big data, digital hospitals, artificial intelligence (AI) and robots are set to revolutionise the healthcare system as we know it. However, there will always be the need for a human touch in the healthcare profession. With the impact of mental health continually increasing continued research, training and postgraduate study can truly make a difference in the future of mental health, for patients and professionals alike.


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