Digital Data and Mental Health

Technology’s rapid development has caused groundbreaking change in many realms of human inquiry and initiative; new technological advancements have enabled breakthroughs in business, medicine, media, war, etc. This article will focus on the changes that advancements in digital data have contributed to the field of mental health.

Since psychology became a thing, researchers have found it difficult to measure and control human behavior in accordance with the scientific method. A person’s mood constructs are unique to that individual, and case studies are not accepted as a way to base observations meant to apply to general humanity and its behavior.

mental health2That said, as cognitive technology and artificial intelligence develop, people may be able to understand mood and mental health at an unprecedented level of clarity, using unprecedented technology.

Apple announced the development of its ResearchKit in March of last year. Since that point, developers and healthcare professionals have teamed up to develop apps that can leverage the functionality of smartphones for the purposes of aiding in research. That means with the help of sensors, facial recognition, accelerometers and GPS tracking, more information can be collected for use in mental health than ever before.

And this boost in information could not come at a more important time. As it stands, approximately 1 of every 5 adults in the U.S. suffer from some kind of mental illness. That comes out to an estimated 43.8 million people in the country that could benefit from expanding the research into mental illness. Perhaps even more astounding, millennials (ages 18-25) have the highest prevalence of experiencing a depressive episode of any other age group.

And for those with little to no empathy for those struggling with mental health issues, perhaps a financial viewpoint might drive the point home: From depression to anxiety to other mood disorders, NAMI estimates that serious mental illness costs the United States approximately $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year. That means lost taxes as well.

What tech-based efforts are being made to ameliorate this issue? Many makers have turned their attention to this important initiative, so there’s a list of exciting technologies to choose from.

Eliza is an application developed by IBM last spring that runs on IBM’s Watson software. Users can tell “Eliza” how they’re feeling, and the technology analyzes sentiments to aggregate data, then offering appropriate insights to users.

mentApple’s ResearchKit functionality also lends itself to the efforts of Saker, an app that tracks a person’s gait to test how scared or apprehensive a user might be feeling.

Autism & Beyond also runs on Apple’s ResearchKit. Created at Duke University, this app uses facial recognition technology to help in early-stage autism screening.

Then there’s the tools meant to be used by researchers and mental healthcare providers as opposed to potential patients themselves. The Google Ventures-backed company Quartet has developed a collaborative behavioral health platform that collects and combines data, ultimately analyzing trends between physical health and behavioral health. The app can then link patients with a health care provider, evidence-based approaches, and individualized plans.

As to what’s just past the horizon of tech-based mental health advancements, it’s difficult to predict.

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