Technology has historically had a bad rap when it comes to mental health, but a wave of apps, research trials and campaigns are helping to turn the tide. We look at a number of recent approaches.
We’re mid-way through January, which means that many of us will have embarked on new habits in a quest to live healthier and happier in 2023. As well as improving our physical health, the goal of bettering mental health is gaining momentum. In a recent Forbes Health/OnePoll survey, 45% of respondents said that improving mental health was one of their top New Year’s resolutions, topping fitness (39%), weight loss (37%) and improving diet (33%).
This has not gone unnoticed to the tech sector, and there’s now a growing market for apps, solutions and devices claiming to support mental health. Therapeutic approaches are now easily accessible via apps, for example, and we can connect with therapists and counsellors on Zoom, embark on wellbeing courses on dedicated platforms, and track physical symptoms and mood with wearables. There are also a number of public health services both in trial and in operation.
We’ve had a quick browse and highlighted the following areas we think are particularly interesting or helpful in terms of supporting mental health:
Mindfulness and meditation apps: There’s evidence to suggest that mindfulness – being fully present and aware of what’s happening around and within you – can reduce stress. Mindfulness courses and techniques like meditation are being packaged into dedicated smartphone apps, many offering free trials. One of the first, and arguably the best, in the UK is Headspace, launched in 2010. Calm and The Mindfulness App are also big players.
Game-based therapy: The media generally reports on the negative association between video games and mental health. Last year, it was therefore a welcome surprise to spot a story that bucks this trend. In June, NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), approved a number of games, videos and quizzes to help treat children with anxiety. The digital tools are based on cognitive behavioural therapies and are intended for use alongside face-to-face support.
A new approach to social media: Does social media help or hinder mental health and wellbeing? It allows us to stay in touch with friends, forge new connections and creates a sense of community: helpful. But it’s also given us easier access (and been used as a tool to spread) harmful content: unhelpful. As such, there’s now a desire for a new kind of social media environment, with a number of platforms and campaigns being launched. These include the B-corp WeAre8, which bills itself as a responsible social media platform which supports charities and has ‘zero tolerance for hate’. Campaigns like Lightful’s #ReclaimSocialMedia have also encouraged individuals and organisations to use social media for good and share positive and meaningful campaigns.
Augmented and virtual reality: The AR healthcare market will generate an estimated $10 billion next year, according to ABI Research. Tools like virtual reality are already being used for things like exposure-based treatments, in which to patients experience feared scenarios in a safe environment, with the support of mental health practitioners. As well as supporting individuals, this approach also supports the work of researchers, as they’re able to create controllable scenarios without the cost of having to use real-life actors and settings. Read more on this here.
Tech tips for a healthy start: According to Statista, ‘the average daily social media usage of internet users worldwide amounted to 147 minutes per day’ in 2022. Want to cut down? There are a number of practical ways to reduce time spent on social media – we shared a couple in our Tech Tips blog.
We can all use social media and other apps to read or watch content on the best supplements, therapies, or exercises for mental and physical health. However, it’s often when we switch off and move away from our screens that we can really take action, and (hopefully!) start 2023 healthier and happier.
Finally, taking action isn’t only the responsibility of tech users. Software developers and tech companies should consider mental health and wellbeing in UX and product design. Manipulative algorithms can encourage addictive behaviours while misinformation and the lack of age restrictions allow harmful content to be accessed by vulnerable users. Both of these things can and should be addressed by the tech sector.