Recently, major tech companies have come into play, by harnessing technology to close the treatment gap. Through designing apps and websites, they hope to help those with mental health issues, anonymously.
Here are three such digital platforms:
1. EMBEDA five-year project by Canada and China to enhance mental health treatment, EMBED helps to manage mental health issues through the use of smartphone apps, text messaging and electronic medical records. Developed by a collaboration between APEC Digital Hub for Mental Health – which is based at the University of British Columbia (UBC) – University of Alberta and Mood Disorders Society of Canada.
Liberal MP Lloyd Longfield, who represents the Ontario riding of Guelph, revealed a great potential in the project as applications may target a high prevalence age group – adolescents and young adults who are comfortable with digital platforms. According to a 2010 report, 49.5% of US adolescents met the criteria for mental health disorders.
The apps work by raising a red flag when a student withdraws from class or social activity, or has a sudden drop in grades. This allows the people around them to identify the symptoms, and therefore provide early help. For distressed youths who prefer not to have direct contact with a psychiatrist or mental health professional, there are also other apps available to help them through the crisis or depressive state.
According to Longfield, despite of the arguments about the risk of the use of smartphone and its impact on mental health, the positive use of the technology can help those with mental health issues. “We really are at a point in time where there’s some great possibilities to improve wellness of people through apps that might be developed in a network like this,” he says.
Wysa, a name inspired from the words “wise friend”, is an artificial intelligence-driven chatbot in a smartphone app. Launched by husband and wife, Ramakant Vempati and Jo Aggarwal, in January this year, it aims to help those with minor mental health issues.
With 100,000 users alobally currently, the chatbot uses cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, similar to an interactive self-help book.
“The design of Wysa was meant to be something that a person can reach out to very comfortably. So, it can do empathetic listening and also deliver cognitive behavioural therapy techniques that can help you change the way you’re feeling,” Wysa’s lead developer, Shubhankar Sarda says.
However, the app does have its current shortcomings, according to Esme Shaller, a psychologist from the University of California San Francisco.
She claims that apps such as Wysa might not necessarily pick up on subtle language, for example, Shaller recalls the time when a client left a voicemail message on her phone saying, “I love you, Esme.”
“That was all she said on the phone. And I knew, because I knew that client, that she was going to make a suicide attempt. And I was able to prevent that,” said Shaller. “But a bot would just say, ‘I love you, too!’”
However, Shaller does see opportunities for apps like Wysa as teens are more likely to feel more comfortable confiding in their phones – as adolescents prefer to have their emotional data remain private.
YourDOST is an online mental health counselling platform launched in 2014. It provides people who have mental health issues, convenient and anonymous access to experts, such as life coaches, psychologists and other experienced individuals. Through either a web portal or mobile app, users can seek help through live chat, email or by booking an appointment with the expert of their choice.
A success case of the platform saw a college girl to speak out. This girl was raped by her teacher in school, but had been unable to tell her therapist about the incident even after four years of mental therapy. “She told us she was so happy that a service like this had been launched and that, if it had been around earlier, she might have spoken out and saved herself many years of struggle,” Richa Singh, the founder of YourDOST says.
The platform also caters to parents who want to seek help for their children.
“Some parents reach us with behavioural concerns regarding their children. We act as a bridge between the parent and child and for such cases only the experts handle the calls,” Richa says. MIMS
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