Millions of people throughout the world are affected by mental health issues today. In fact, according to the World Health Organization about 300 million people suffer from depression and another 260 million are wrestling with anxiety disorders. While researchers haven’t developed any new medications in about three decades, technological advances are making headway today. These are helping with diagnosing, tracking, managing, and mitigating things so patients stick to their treatment plans.
Apps for Everything
One of the biggest breakthroughs we’re seeing is in the way of apps. Just as with everything else in life, there’s an app for everything today – from PTSD to addiction. There are literally thousands of apps today. While some of them are targeted at users with specific mental health issues, helping them track and manage their symptoms. Other apps help with things like meditation, PTSD, eating disorders, and addictions.
All of these apps are quite beneficial in different ways. While they’re convenient, anonymous, and inexpensive they should never serve as a stand-in for professional treatment. This is because they aren’t backed by any peer-reviewed research or clinical studies since tech development moves faster than traditional scientific testing. Furthermore, confidentiality is a major issue because these apps don’t adhere to HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996).
There are also some studies that show the improvements in patients’ lives, made by these apps. In order to know the difference here, you should discuss any app you’re considering using with your doctor or therapist. These should be ones that rely on evidence-based treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy. Additionally, double-check to make sure that the app developer is affiliated with either an academic research institution or a government agency.
One-on-One Therapy With Video or Social Therapy
What’s even better than using an app though is one on one interaction online with a therapist. This is done through video and text. It works particularly well for anyone who can’t find a therapist to meet with in-person in their area. According to Mental Floss, these platforms allow patients to use their computer or phone to connect with a therapist through voice or video. There are also some text-based platforms that let you send an unlimited amount of messages via your phone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and they only charge you a flat, monthly fee.
Unimelb even found one platform that’s like Facebook in that it’s a social networking site that offers specialized therapeutic components including a forum through which you can crowd-source solutions to common issues. This is easy to use because it emulates the look of a popular social media site. These platforms are also quite flexible, which is why they serve as the backbone for a lot of today’s popular mental health websites. Here you’ll receive tailored content suggestions, as well as timely and relevant therapy modules based on information like usage history and text analysis.
While all of this sounds great, it can also be a double-edged sword. Social media sites like Facebook are known to cause or exacerbate certain mental health issues. Although therapeutic platforms are designed to avoid most of these pitfalls and help with these issues, you should still use caution here.
Another area in which you need to use caution is with technological treatments. According to The DBS Alliance, these biological treatments are shown to reduce the symptoms of depression and bipolar disorder. They include:
- Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) was first discovered by researchers in the 1930s who learned that by applying a small electric current to the brain caused small, mild, 30 second long seizures that changed the brain’s chemistry. Over the years this therapy has grown more mild and tolerable especially since it’s now conducted in the hospital under mild anesthesia. When this treatment is conducted two or three times a week for a few weeks research demonstrates its effectiveness in treating severe depression. However, there are some side effects, including confusion and memory loss.
- Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) uses a special electromagnetic device that’s placed on your scalp. From there it sends out short bursts of energy to your brain that stimulate the nerve cells that are associated with your mood regulation. This doesn’t require surgery, hospitalization, or anesthesia. You may experience a mild headache or light-headedness afterward but they won’t last long.
- Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) involves implanting a small battery-powered device that’s like a pacemaker under your skin on the left side of your chest. This FDA approved device is programmed to deliver a mild electrical stimulation to your vagus nerve. Anyone over the age of 18 who’s experiencing chronic or recurrent treatment-resistant depression (either uni or bipolar) may benefit from this. The most common side effects include hoarseness, sore throat and shortness of breath.
- Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES) devices are attached to your head through a headband or worn over your ear lobes with clips. From there they send a low-level electric current across your head and brain in short spurts. You won’t even feel it happening because it’s at such a low-level.
- Biofeedback helps you control your symptoms by taking deep breaths, relaxing your muscles, and changing your thoughts. This is done through a device that you either wear or attach to your finger or earlobe. From there it measures your heart-rate, muscle tension, and breathing. You then receive feedback from the device as it either beeps or flashes at you. Once you change your physiological reaction to the device, the feedback will also change. This allows you to learn how to reduce the symptoms you’re experiencing and hopefully, you can eventually do this without using the device. As such, this is a way of reconditioning the patterns you have ingrained in your life.
Although criticism about the impact of digital technology on emotional well-being does exist, this technology is definitely making some headway today. It won’t be long before it offers us a lot of great ways to improve our mental well-being.