Mental Health Tech in 2020

Woman on phone sitting on yoga mat

When you think of technology and mental health, your first thought might be that technology doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to mental health. But mental health tech opens new opportunities for people to get the mental health assistance they need.

Most Americans (at least 77 percent) have a smartphone. And most have some type of online presence — usually on social media.1

Although there is no conclusive evidence that social media platforms cause mental health issues, there is mounting evidence that they can exacerbate them.2 According to McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliate, “The platforms are designed to be addictive and are associated with anxiety, depression, and even physical ailments.”3

Other technology-enabled activities, such as gaming and gambling, can have a detrimental impact on mental health if they aren’t kept in check.

Still, there are thousands of other uses for technology that can aid in mental health treatment. And because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an increasing demand for mental health tech applications, as well as for the health technology experts who can create and manage them.  

How Technology is Helping with Mental health

The main avenues through which technology helps mental health professionals and their patients are remote health support and remote data collection.

You’re likely already familiar with the term “telehealth.” Telehealth services have skyrocketed recently due to the pandemic. Many doctor’s offices have closed their branches to physical visits, turning to online tools to consult with their patients instead.

This initiative has not been without some difficulty. Telehealth was still a relatively novel concept when the pandemic hit. But it has now taken on a new urgency that is pushing many healthcare organizations to explore and deploy innovative solutions for remote health technology.

Private companies have also begun developing stand-alone apps that help users with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Although many of these apps aren’t associated with a hospital or mental health organization, some have been approved by mental health experts.

There are several benefits to mental health tech, but some of the most prevalent are the following:

  • Convenience
  • Anonymity
  • Easier Access to Services
  • Lower Costs
  • Renewed Interest and Acceptance

Meanwhile, other technological advancements — including the integration of augmented and virtual reality into healthcare — are on the horizon.

Technology Tools That Help

Multiple apps can help users practice mental health techniques. Most (but not all) mental health apps are related to the following subjects:

  • Scheduling and Life Management
  • Skills Training
  • “Brain Training”
  • Meditation and Anxiety Support
  • Illness Management
  • Symptom Tracking
  • Remote Health Support (Telehealth)
  • Remote Data Collection

You may already be familiar with apps like Headspace and Calm.5 Both apps are designed to help users meditate or calm their racing minds. 

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has even made a list of helpful mental health apps that it has reviewed and approved.6 For example, Anxiety Reliever helps users track their anxiety symptoms and provides them with relaxation exercises.7 Happify helps users increase positive emotions through games and exercises.8

Many hospitals and doctors’ offices use connected devices to help patients track their mental health symptoms, providing a clearer picture of their progress. Some of the wireless devices currently in use help enforce medication compliance, track symptoms remotely, and help seniors connect with healthcare providers, all from the comfort of home.9

There are also several mental health apps that provide mobile support and the ability to contact a crisis center quickly.10 These apps have the added benefit of bringing mental health services to a broader segment of the population — especially those in rural areas who may not have easy access to licensed therapists.

Researchers are exploring how virtual reality (VR) can help people suffering from trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) recover.11 Some studies have indicated that VR can significantly impact patients suffering from “treatment-resistant PTSD” or PTSD that hasn’t responded to traditional therapies.12

The Future of Mental Health Technology

Because of the renewed interest in mental health tech, there has also been a push for more investment. According to Forbes, global mental health venture capital investment already reached $750 million in 2019.13 Mental health startups also saw record funding in the first quarter of 2020, to the tune of a record $3.1 billion.14

There is now a union between technologists, engineers, and those in the mental health field. Although no mental health treatments can be provided without the approval of a physician, mental health technology startups will need both healthcare professionals and engineers to launch and manage their products successfully.

We can expect more smartphone-enabled healthcare apps to land in the hands of patients, giving them more control over their mental health treatment. This increases the need for more user-friendly designs.

Behavioral apps must be accessible to users of various ages and abilities. Furthermore, patients will need guidance as to what technology tools are appropriate for their specific condition. Research is still pending, but scientists are actively looking into how mobile technology can intervene during serious mental health episodes and how remote counseling can be more standardized.

Eventually, we may return to a space in which in-office visits are the norm. But the mental health landscape has changed forever. Technology has opened a new age in treatment, and the budding industry will need educated professionals to pilot its course.

Job Opportunities in Mental Health Technology

Increased awareness of mental health — combined with emerging needs due to the pandemic — has accelerated the growth and adoption of health technology. This holds for mental health tech as well, and growth means that job opportunities are also fast-growing.

You don’t need to be a nurse or physician to help bring the healthcare industry into the digital age. But if you’ve ever wanted a career in health technology, or want to give your current technology career a boost, online healthcare technology courses may be helpful in achieving your goals.



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