The role of mobile tech in treating mental health issues

Studies back its efficacy

As we mentioned last month, most smartphone users want to interact with their physician using a mobile device or smartphone. Given the potential for the mishandling of sensitive information, there are a few privacy obstacles to overcome before such a thing becomes common practice, but consumer interest is there.

Arranging a doctor appointment or checking insurance benefits are a couple of low-risk ways patients can engage with the healthcare supply chain via mobile without putting too much of their personal data at risk. Now, the Guardian's Conor Farrington wonders if mobile technology can also be used to offer people better access to mental health treatment.

"[M]any existing capacities of tablets, smartphones and even 'dumbphones' can be repurposed to serve diagnostic, monitoring, and therapeutic functions," explains Farrington. "At the lower end of the scale, researchers at Oxford and elsewhere have shown that SMS and voice-calls can be used to assess mental health status, deliver talking therapies (eg cognitive behavioural therapy) and stimulate behavioural change."

Farrington notes that tablets and smartphones on the higher end of the technology spectrum are even better equipped to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues--"for instance through multimedia apps, [that] draw on a wider range of sensors and capacities--eg accelerometers, GPS and camera--to generate richer data and smarter interventions," he says.

A study published last year in the Journal of Medical Internet Research reviewed a series of mobile apps aimed at people struggling with depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Researchers found a "significant reduction" in the symptoms of people who used the apps, concluding that "mental health apps have the potential to be effective and may significantly improve treatment accessibility. However, the majority of apps that are currently available lack scientific evidence about their efficacy."

The idea is not without hurdles that, again, relate back to privacy issues. Of equal importance is ensuring that the use of mobile apps, smartphones and tablets don't remove the human element from mental health treatment plans.

For more:
- read the article about technology and mental health
- read the study about the use of mobile apps to treat mental health issues
- get statistics about the prevalence of mental health issues in the U.S.

Related Articles:
An Apple a day keeps the doctor mobile
Is encryption the prescription for smartphone-based medical care?
Health insurers need to go mobile to engage consumers, advises IDC