The Future of Mental Health is on Your Smartphone

Patient Expert
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According to Mental Health America, 20 percent of the people in the United States live with a mental health condition. Unfortunately, more than half of these people don’t have access to care. Barriers that prevent people from getting treatment include lack of available time or family support, living in a remote location, the high cost of treatment, not knowing where to begin, and the stigma associated with mental health.

Taking that first step to seeking treatment is an enormous challenge for many people, especially if they have no health insurance, need to take time off of work, and fear being judged by others. The makers of mental health apps, meanwhile, are hoping to make treatment more accessible and affordable by asking personal questions and providing interactive treatment programs at your fingertips. As mobile technology continues to innovate, mental health monitoring apps will evolve to make treatment more personalized, efficient, and effective.

Posit Science hopes to accomplish this through its BrainHQ app. It’s a brain training program that works with brain plasticity. “Brain plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change throughout life. The human brain has the amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells (neurons),” according to SharpBrains.

Through years of research and experiments, BrainHQ has learned that certain types of exercises will actually change people’s brains. The app uses scientifically designed games for these activities to make it more enticing and engaging to the user. Also, the app has a 12 question immediate mood scale. The value of quantifying one's mood is that it allows people to be more accurate in communicating what they are feeling.

Mental health apps like this provide users with the option of answering questions several times a day, or less frequently. And as mental health apps begin to integrate with the other apps such as Apple Health or Android Health, a person's mood changes can be be tracked along with eating, sleeping, and exercise habits. After a period of tracking, the results can be sent to a clinician to review before the person arrives for treatment.

As clinicians gain more access to real-time data, they can help patients more accurately identify triggers, patterns, and give more personalized recommendations. Even without the aid of a mental health professional, the ability to review this data on a smartphone will likely help anyone better manage themselves. Technology for other health conditions, such as diabetes, has given patients the ability to accurately and immediately monitor their symptoms and, in some cases, take action -- e.g., administering insulin. With this information, patients can appropriately adjust their diet, exercise, and lifestyle, as needed.

As a mental health patient, I have filled out many questionnaires in the waiting area before going in to see a mental health professional. Despite my best efforts to answer clearly, I have often questioned how accurate my answers were. I've often wondered if my answers were influenced by how I was feeling that day or if I forgot about challenges that I may have been experiencing before my visit. An app that can record my mood in real-time would make this process much easier.

Mental health apps will make the recovery journey easier and more accessible. But like any innovation, they come with pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Many people have their smartphones with them 24/7.
  • We are comfortable interacting with our smartphones.
  • Apps are ideal for teenagers and young adults who use their smartphones as their primary channel of communication.
  • Apps engage people who are unable, unwilling, or uncomfortable with the idea of going to therapy.

Cons:

  • There are a variety of mental health apps on the market, and that makes it harder to choose the right one.
  • Mental health professionals don't always develop many of these apps.
  • Face-to-face therapy offers a genuine human connection that apps don't.

Even if you're skeptical, I believe that exploring apps like BrainHQ is worth a try. They aren't a complete solution for treatment (at least not yet), but the best of these apps can assist anyone on their recovery journey.

As Henry Mahncke, the CEO of Posit Science, puts it: "We are our brains. What we perceive. How we think. How we act. Once you deeply appreciate the idea that you can rewire your brain through training, you can address neurological, psychiatric, and brain performance issues."

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