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Mental health: digital solutions for prevention and therapy

Artificial intelligence is increasingly being used for mental health problems and offers great potential.
Joshua Rawson-Harris © unsplash

From nice-to-have to imperative: digital solutions for mental health

When a backache is causing you agony, no one would expect you to push through it and carry on working at the same level of performance. Almost anyone would be able to imagine what that kind of pain feels like, even if they’d never experienced it themselves before. The same can be said of other illnesses, such as infections, food poisoning, and circulatory disorders.

“In 2020, mental health support went from a nice-to-have to a true business imperative.”

Harvard Business Review: It’s a New Era for Mental Health at Work

There is less empathy, though, when it comes to psychological health issues. For a long time, depression and anxiety haven’t been taken as seriously in the world of work as clinical, physical ailments. However, that has changed drastically in recent years. The health experts from DAK-Gesundheit, a German health insurance provider, identified reasons for this in their 2021 health report: employees diagnosed with depression are absent for an average of 61 days annually. At the same time, the number of doctor’s notes issued for burnout or other stress disorders has increased. In Germany, the absence rate due to mental illness reached a new high in 2021.

Artificial intelligence for diagnosing and treating mental health problems

Although younger people and adolescents are more affected by psychological health problems, this group is particularly difficult to reach – whether from a preventive, diagnostic, or therapeutic perspective. Scientifically based apps that implement artificial intelligence (AI) are regarded as highly promising solutions in this respect. For example, the Mannheim Central Institute of Mental Health is researching how AI can be used for prevention or treatment within the framework of living labs.

On the one hand, it’s hard to imagine how machines are supposed to mend broken human minds when the loss of human interaction is among the things being blamed for the rise in psychological disorders. On the other hand, robots, smart programs, and other applications can significantly improve diagnostic quality, whether in the form of intelligent software that detects red flags more quickly or in terms of treatment and therapy: after all, waiting times are a factor that may be the difference between life and death when it comes to mental health.

Telemedicine: digital solutions for a healthy mind

Telemedicine is currently shaking up established medical conventions. All over the world, new ideas are emerging with regard to how technology can be utilized to simplify appointments with a doctor. One example is the Swedish startup Kry, which is working on a platform for doctors and patients and received an impressive 300 million euros of venture capital in 2021.

Following on from the numerous isolated solutions that have already been introduced, it seems like the trend is developing into a holistic approach – a welcome shift for those affected. Having to look for help in various places in an acute, emergency situation can quickly become an insurmountable hurdle. Even the best service isn’t worth it if it’s not easily accessible to patients.

Mental health: wearables, IoT, and other digital solutions

In addition to telemedicine, the world’s healthcare systems are also making a qualitative leap thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). Nowadays, smart trackers can easily measure vital signs such as blood pressure, blood sugar level, and ECG values. Specially designed wearables can also track relevant values for mental health. “Oura Ring” focuses on measuring sleep and can detect unhealthy abnormalities. “Muse” is a headband that measures EEG data and uses it to draw conclusions about the wearer’s mental wellbeing. Last but not least, “TouchPoints” is a wristband that diagnoses anxiety and stress.