Virtual Mental Health Care: Solving Mental Health Crisis with Technology

It’s not only physical health that was severely affected by COVID-19. With strict restrictions, country-wide lockdowns, and social isolation, we now have a global mental health crisis on our hands. “The isolation, the fear, the uncertainty, the economic turmoil —- they all-cause or could cause psychological distress,” said Director of WHO’s mental health department.

New studies emerge that indicate an increase in cases of depression, anxiety, as well as domestic violence. According to KFF Health Tracking Poll, 36% of adults reported difficulties with sleeping, 32% — with eating, 12% admitted an increase in substance use or alcohol consumption, and 12% noticed the worsening of chronic conditions.

Pandemic causes spike in anxiety & Depression | HealthSoul

Healthcare systems, already stretched too thin, are looking for ways to support communities and elevate the mental burden of the crisis. That’s where technology can help. From HIPAA-compliant video conferencing solutions for telepsychiatry to mHealth apps to wearables, technology is stepping up.

Telepsychiatry solutions

A niche of telemedicine, telepsychiatry leverages telecommunications technology to deliver mental health care services in the comfort and privacy of a patient’s home. These services can range from individual and group video-based therapy sessions to psychiatric or medical evaluation to patient education.

There is no shortage of telepsychiatry services on the market today, and SOC Telemed is one of them. The platform covers a range of emergency telepsychiatry consultations, including substance abuse, panic attacks, bipolar disorders, and more.

Meditation apps

Meditation, a practice of focus and concentration, is a simple yet proven way to reduce stress and decrease anxiety. Studies show that mindful meditation can lower serum cortisol levels, which can further decrease the risk of stress-related disorders. It’s no wonder that meditation apps are booming amid the pandemic-induced uncertainty. By 2027, the global meditation apps market is expected to reach USD 4.2 bln.

The chart leader is the app called Calm, with 100 mln downloads in 2020. This Apple award-winning app includes a variety of breathing techniques, meditation exercises, as well as masterclasses and bedtime stories narrated by world-famous actors like Stephen Fry and Mathew McConaughey.

Wearable technology

Smartwatches, fitness and activity trackers, smart bands, and other wearables too can be leveraged to support patients’ mental health. These portable devices continuously monitor a variety of health parameters like body temperature, heart rate, sleep phases, blood oxygen saturation, and more. Amazon Halo smart band, for example, also features AI-powered voice analysis that helps to detect mood swings throughout the day.

Some companies even develop dedicated wearable devices for mental health treatment. One such device is TouchPoint. These twin neuroscientific wearables leverage the patent-pending BLAST (bi-lateral alternating stimulation-tactile) technology to emit micro-vibrations and bring stress relief in a matter of minutes.

Virtual and augmented reality

As AR and VR technology is becoming more mature, it holds vast potential for transforming mental health care and improving patient’s quality of life. With the ability to immerse patients in controlled real-world simulations, VR/AR-based solutions are perfect for exposure therapy. This type of therapy has shown great results in treating PTSD, fears, and certain phobias. In one study, for example, the fear of real-world social situations halved after just one VR session in a group of 30 patients.

Psious, a VR platform for psychology, covers over 70 virtual environments to treat a variety of conditions — from acrophobia to claustrophobia to fear of public speaking. AR is even more accessible and easier to implement since it doesn’t require a special headset. Saagara offers a range of AR apps for mental health and wellbeing, including breathing lessons, meditation, and yoga.

Emotion AI

Another way that technology can help healthcare professionals effectively handle mental health issues is through emotion recognition. Emotion AI is a subset of artificial intelligence that deals with the detection and recognition of emotions based on facial expressions, gestures, posture and gait analysis, and other biometric parameters.

Although new, emotion recognition technology is a promising field. One research described a neural network-based architecture that used Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to identify individuals with depression and PTSD in real-time with 93% accuracy. Automated detection of depressive disorder symptoms can improve diagnostic accuracy and efficiency, translating into better patient outcomes.

Wrapping up

Directly or not, the pandemic is taking its toll on all of us. As depression and anxiety have become an everyday battle for millions of people, the healthcare industry is forced to find innovative ways to improve mental care. And technology can offer a helping hand. From telepsychiatry platforms and wellbeing apps to medical wearables and VR-enabled applications, technology helps us build our resilience back up.

About the author

Olga Ezzheva is a technical writer at Oxagile, a leading software development company. A tech enthusiast, Olga covers a host of topics – from Big Data to Machine Learning to Computer Vision – while focusing on innovative ways to leverage technology for business growth.