In our tech-driven world we depend on our technology devices to help us move through our days in a variety of ways. We can ask our phones to give us driving directions and ask our home devices to tell us what the weather is going to be. Many of us also turn to technology to help when we are feeling down. This idea has pros and cons, but the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) sees some opportunity. Between 2009 and 2015, NIMH awarded 445 million dollars in grants to study technology-enhanced mental health interventions. These grants have focused on interventions for a variety of mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, trauma and autism as well interventions for HIV and suicide. This idea of putting mental health support in the immediate reach of anyone with a cell phone is very hopeful and very simple.
Some of the grant funding from NIMH has made it possible for software engineers to partner with mental health clinicians to create some very user-friendly and possibly effective applications individuals can use on their own. As a result you can see an increasing number of apps related to mental health interventions available in your phones Play Store. This new way helping people get help has a lot of potential for clients and clinicians alike. However, NIMH points out that there good reason for some concern at this stage of development about very little industry regulation and very little information on app effectiveness. For this reason, it is very encouraging that NIMH has identified as a high priority the ongoing research on digital mental health technology.
Here are some of the advantages that NIMH points out about using mental health interventions on our devices:
• Convenience: You can use the applications anytime and anywhere and this may be a huge advantage for people who have difficulty traveling to in-person appointments.
• Anonymity: People can seek treatment options without involving other people.
• Getting Started: Technology may be a good first step for those who have avoided mental health care in the past.
• Lower cost: Many apps are free or cost less than traditional care.
• Reach more people: Technology can help mental health providers offer treatment to people in remote areas or to many people in times of sudden need such as after a natural disaster or terror attack.
• Interest: Tech-treatment might be more appealing than traditional methods, which may encourage clients to continue therapy.
• 24-hour service: Technology can provide round-the-clock monitoring or intervention support.
• Consistency: Technology can offer the same treatment program to all users.
• Partnering: Tech-treatment can be used along with traditional therapy by extending an in-person session, reinforcing new skills, and providing support and monitoring.
While your device can never take the place of sitting in a room and connecting with another human being, it can fill in the gaps for people and sometimes may be the one thing that gets someone started in the right direction.
Bill Mory is a Texoma-based licensed therapist in private practice. He integrates mindfulness training in working counseling clients and is a strong community-building advocate and a provider of workplace training on a variety of topics. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.