Digital vitamins for mental health

Necessity is the mother of health invention  >  According to the recent data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, almost 20% of people in the UK who screened positive for a psychotic disorder, had not received any sort of treatment. One reason is that they do not seek help!

Fortunately innovation is coming to their aid. By delivering mental health services differently, there is hope that a greater number of people will be able to access the help they need.

For example, there are already thousands of mental health apps available. However, such a wide variety of so-called digital vitamins raise conflicting advice and uncertainty, and there is very little knowledge about their true effectiveness.

Here is just a tiny sample of such apps vying for a slice of Tonic’s business ….

App promises to make every day good

First up is Moodrise, , which is designed to brighten your day everyday.  Developed by AeBeZe Labs, the app claims to help you feel better by targeting six appealing states of mind, including happiness. You choose the mood and the app feeds you photos, videos and other online content. This counteracts your constant exposure to negative news. The developers claim their app acts as a digital vitamin that should be taken daily for good mental health.

The 2nd idea, coming from Spire Health in The States, is designed to measure breathing to empower people to take control of their mental and physical health. Users attach it to their clothes to monitor breath and heart rates. Spire claims the Health Tag is the world’s smallest consumer tag.

After collecting data from the wearer, the Spire Health Tag classifies patterns. These are used to determine the wearer’s cognitive and emotional state.

Meanwhile in Australia, students at Deakin University have created a smart cube that monitors workers’ wellbeing. Cube Comfort Monitors (also known as ‘Baby Cubes’) contain sensors that measure conditions in the workplace. The cubes are small enough to sit on a desk. Data on room temperature, humidity, light intensity, light temperature, sound levels and air quality indicators is transmitted to a cloud-based server in real-time. The information is then used to reveal problem areas within the room.

Wearable headset treats depression

On the other side of the world, Flow Neuroscience in Sweden is developing an alternative treatment for depression. The new device, called ‘Flow’, is a medical-grade headset for brain stimulation. It combines psychology, technology and neuroscience. The headset sends out gentle electric pulses through a patient’s brain, targeting the part of the brain affected by depression. This technique, called Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (TDCS), aims to encourage the brain to change in specific areas over time.

Apps bringing people together

The problem with these innovations is that they are impersonal. People with mental health problems need people – but Tonic would say that wouldn’t it!

So we are more supportive of two UK-based app initiatives. The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) has launched a campaign featuring large, interactive digital displays that resemble smartphones.  The Call for Help campaign aims to break stigmas around mental health. The purpose of the screen is to show how frequent the CALM helpline receives calls.

Secondly, a developer aims to offer free access to registered mental health professionals. Called Spill, it is offered for free to employees and students of participating companies and universities. The chat-based app features an on-demand service in which callers can reach out for help anytime. They are matched with counsellors and therapists affiliated with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

The app encourages contacting counsellors to talk about everyday stresses, not just mental health crises. It also strives to make mental health a habit by encouraging daily check-ins and tasks.

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