The severe mental health crisis within the United States is no surprise to anyone, and if the ever increasing rates of homelessness, incarceration, and gun violence don’t make this evident enough, the raw figures from leading mental health institutions should clue you in.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 1 in 5 Americans experience a mental health episode each year, with 1 in 20 experiencing something serious. Suicide is now the second most common cause of death among children between the ages of 10 and 14, second only to gun violence.
With this, one thing is perfectly clear, the existing approach to dealing with mental health issues has a lot of gaps in it, something that needs to be addressed with great urgency. In this article, we look into some up-and-coming technologies and innovations with the potential to fill this gap going forward.
Telemedicine & Online Therapy
What was once confined to the fringes of medicine and mental health care just a few years ago, has since become a medium of choice for millions of patients across the country, with services such as BetterHelp rising to the forefront.
Even though this medium gained steam during the pandemic, it is unlikely to fade away even a few years down the line when COVID-19 becomes a distant memory. Telemedicine and online therapy provide substantial benefits over traditional consultations, and it took a global pandemic for patients and the medical community to realize this.
With licensed mental health professionals available on-demand, via web chat, video conferencing, phone, and text messages, it leaves people with no reasons for not getting their issues addressed.
Right now, the telemedicine space is seeing a lot of activity, particularly when it comes to integration with mainstream healthcare. This includes data sharing and interoperability with a mental health EHR system, along with a host of other developments for seamless patient experiences.
Another promising innovation in mental health care, digital therapeutics essentially involves the administration of cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) using cutting edge software solutions.
A few examples of this technology include Woebot, a chatbot interface that helps people manage the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Another notable example includes Calm, the popular guided meditation app that helps millions across the world deal with stress and anxiety.
While none of these solutions are viable alternatives for qualified mental health professionals, they are currently witnessing massive developments, in convergence with AI, and even if a chatbot won’t play the role of a therapist going forward, it will definitely help augment the latter’s capabilities.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Beyond gaming, meetings, and a virtual hangout, virtual reality technology has quite a few applications when it comes to dealing with mental health issues.
After all, what better way to deal with anxieties than to be exposed to them in a simulated virtual environment?
While this still remains confined to experimental use cases, the improvements in VR technologies, especially when paired with AI could soon make it a powerful tool in the arsenal of mental health professionals.
When it comes to virtual reality in healthcare, there are as many overblown fibs, as there are cynical takes on its real world applications, but even beyond the realm of futurists and science fiction, there are few reasons to doubt the outsized role it stands to play in global medicine and healthcare.
With the US facing an unprecedented mental health epidemic, disruptive innovations that close the gaps, and make care more accessible is the need of the hour.
Fortunately, we live during one of the most exciting times in history, with medicine, AI, virtual reality, and engineering all set to converge, adding substantial value to patients and the broader medical ecosystem going forward.