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7th October 2016

Looking after your mental health

Wearing devices that monitor physical changes in our bodies has become the new norm. But what if this so-called ‘wearable technology’ could track our mental health, too?

The idea isn’t as far-fetched as it may sound. Soon we’ll be able to wear a device that can track patterns in mental activity to flag up changes indicating illnesses like depression, dementia or even schizophrenia.

With one in four people experiencing a mental health problem at any given point in time, and about three quarters of people with these conditions going untreated, this could be truly ground breaking. Not only could it identify mental health issues before they become full blown, but it could also ensure that people get the treatment they need.

There are already mobile apps that can help with the early detection of common mental health problems in about 20 minutes. But the developers of this technology are going a step further: by the end of this year, they plan to launch a wearable device that can pick up the tell-tale signs of mental illness by tracking daily activities from physical activity and sleep patterns to social media and communication habits. These get translated into measurements of cognitive functions such as memory, attention span and decision-making.

Of course this device wouldn’t replace the need to go to the doctor, but as with the current mobile app, it could support doctors in their diagnosis and treatment of patients.

Mental Health Europe (MHE), a non-profit organisation advocating for the rights of people with mental health problems, is keenly aware of the potential opportunities that digital technology holds for mental health patients. “The development of mobile apps tracking people’s mental health can indeed be helpful if they encourage people to speak up about how they feel, and to redirect them to appropriate services and support,” a spokesperson told This Is Medtech.

However, the organisation also recognises that technology can sometimes contribute to those very illnesses, particularly amongst young people. To mark World Mental Health Day, MHE is co-hosting a conference in Brussels with two Members of the European Parliament to discuss both the risks and opportunities for young people’s mental health in the digital age.

“We know that young people spend an increasing amount of time online on the Internet or on their smartphone. We now live in the digital era and should seize this opportunity to improve access to mental health care and information for young people,” the MHE spokesperson said.

“The development of web-based interventions and mobile applications are therefore essential since they can provide appropriate help and support to young people through their screens.”

It’s about time that we tapped into the incredible potential of digital technologies for the wellbeing of both our minds and our bodies.