Technology and the Future of Mental Health Treatment by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Technology and the Future of Mental Health Treatment by National Institue of Mental Health is a report written by staff writers at the National Institute of Mental Health in 2017, so it is fairly recent. The authors explain how technology has opened an entirely new avenue for mental health support services and data collection.

NIMH writers declare that mobile devices like cell phones, smartphones, and tablets are giving the public, doctors, and researchers new ways to access help, monitor progress, and increase understanding of mental health. During a crisis, users can simply text or call mental health facilities dedicated to help. Additionally, extremely sophisticated technology can be condensed into an app that tracks behavioral patterns and signals the information to a database before an episode occurs to ensure the user’s safety. Also, these apps can provide a digital community for people suffering from mental illness to connect with each other and licensed clinicians and peer counselors. Although there are thousands of mental healthcare apps, there is a serious level of malaise concerning the regulation and efficacy of these apps. “There is very little industry regulation and very little information on app effectiveness, which can lead consumers to wonder which apps they should trust” (NIMH 1). The document lists several pros and cons of mental health apps. Pros include: convenience, anonymity, introduction to healthcare, lower cost, service to more people, interest, 24-hour service, consistency and support. Cons or concerns include: effectiveness, purpose, guidance, privacy, regulation, and overselling. Next, there are a few emerging trends in this industry such as, self-management apps, apps for improving thinking skills, like Lumosity and Elevate, and skill training apps. Also, illness management supportive care, passive sympton tracking and data collection. In turn, these industry developments creates new partnerships between clinicians and engineers to guarantee the most effective and facile application. Researchers and software engineers are developing and testing apps that do everything from managing medications to teaching coping skills to predicting when someone may need more emotional help (NIMH 3).

I thought this was a very insightful report by the NIMH, I had never really thought about the technological impact and influence on mental health care. This is definitely an interesting industry to pay attention to in the coming years. However, the thousands of apps being produced in the iTunes and Android store are useless, unless they actually work. Two or three highly efficacious and constructive mobile apps that are easy to use are 10x more valuable than thousands of partially reviewed, clinically tenuous apps. There are no review boards, checklists, or widely accepted rules for choosing a mental health app. Most apps do not have peer-reviewed research to support their claims, and it is unlikely that every mental health app will go through a randomized, controlled research trial to test effectiveness (NIMH 3). The lack of review and evaluation boards does pose a major concern to these endeavors in my opinion. Simply because mental health patients that are in need of urgent care should not be subject to ineffective clinical support and unregulated online communities. A lack of critical evaluation can introduce negative outcome variables and limiting factors to the rehabilitation or effective assistance of a patient. Part of the reason for the regulatory and scientific testing lag is that this technology is growing so rapidly. How do you begin to regulate this industry? What are the criteria? Should mandatory product review boards and scientific testing be employed before the release of a product? How long should companies have to guarantee an effective peer-reviewed app?

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