How technological advances have shaped mental health in 2022

How technological advances have shaped mental health in 2022

The mental health landscape has welcomed discoveries, launches, and experiences that showcase immersive technologies. Research, innovations and campaigns that explore the relationship between technological advances and mental health have come to the fore in 2022.

As a result, we have seen sophisticated and ever-evolving technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR) and games position themselves as an effective tool to support holistic healthcare. Consumers want access to mental health interventions that are scalable, stigma-free, accessible and affordable. However, clinicians need more time to adopt new technologies.

Enter the era of advanced solutions to support mental health.

AI-led therapy: breaking down barriers

AI-based chatbots that focus on therapeutics and self-care are gaining prominence. AI-driven tools like voice-recognition software Ellipsis listen and look for signs of emotional distress, while relational agent Woebot aims to help people speak in difficult situations and practice cognitive therapy techniques. behavioral (CBT).

Woebot has raised $123.5 million since its launch in 2017, with nearly $100 million generated since 2021. “The precise role of this technology in our current healthcare system is still emerging; however, there is no doubt that self-managed digital tools will be part of a more comprehensive, inclusive and preventative mental health care system,” says Alison Darcy, Founder and President of Woebot Health.

The appetite for digital mental health support using AI-led techniques is growing. Increasingly, technology is forging a complementary role in the management and treatment of mental health.

“Traditional therapy basically can’t be scaled because it’s really based on a human-to-human relationship,” says Darcy. Using AI-led technology that listens, learns, and provides empathetic mental health support through smart devices can provide opportunities for clinicians, patients, and society at large to make care more accessible and available.

“While we as a society are more open about mental health than ever before, stigma remains a significant barrier to care,” Darcy adds. Therefore, innovations remove the human element from communication to eliminate fear and allow therapies to reach people who would not otherwise seek help.

Balance between convenience and human connectivity

However, concerns about the legitimacy and safety of therapeutic chatbots permeate the medical industry, as the tools remain unregulated and largely unapproved.

Merging face-to-face and digital support can help address these issues. The technology can, for example, offer potential in a simulated training setting.

“We believe AI offers great opportunities to support people working in mental health,” says Dr. Mark Ungless, Director of Data Insights, Mental Health Innovations. “We’re using AI to develop a conversation simulator to help train volunteers to take text conversations to Shout.” Launched in 2019, Shout is the first free, 24/7 SMS support service in the UK.

Social Virtual Reality Can Transform New World Experiences

Virtual reality is a rapidly evolving technology capable of transporting people to virtual locations, enabling interaction in a “hyper-real” way and tracking user behavior. The technology is emerging in the treatment and management of various conditions, including stress, anxiety and pain management, as it aims to alter perceptions of pain.

“Virtual reality technology has been used as part of psychological therapy in specialist mental health clinics for over 25 years,” says Dr Elizabeth Murphy, gameChange trial coordinator and clinical research psychologist at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. However, virtual reality in psychological therapy, “until recently, was always on a small scale as the technology was supported by in-person therapy,” Murphy says.

Access to mental health for all

Access and scalability have driven innovation. “While some companies pursue digital therapies, which require individuals to seek a prescription for a digital virtual reality app from a physician, the greatest potential lies in scalable mental wellness apps available to everyone, from any time,” said Noah Robinson, Founder and CEO of Innerworld.

In April 2022, a UK national study developed gameChange, which automates psychological therapy for psychosis in a virtual reality environment with an integrated virtual therapist. “Virtual reality psychological therapy that can be delivered in the patient’s home holds tremendous promise for treatment,” says Murphy. The results revealed that the gameChange automated VR therapy significantly reduced participants’ anxiety and distress in everyday social situations.

“We are still a long way from having technology like gameChange available as standard in mental health services, but we hope that will change soon,” Murphy says. An implementation study is underway to determine how it can become part of routine clinical services.

“Currently, most virtual reality mental health interventions focus on exposure therapy,” says Noah Robinson, Founder and CEO of Innerworld. However, the founder believes that “the greatest potential lies in social virtual reality, or the metaverse, because it is the most interpersonal and anonymous technology that exists”.

Designed for VR to take advantage of immersive social presence and anonymity, Innerworld is currently offering a randomized controlled trial to determine if more expensive VR headsets are needed or if it can deliver a metaverse experience via screens. equally effective dishes. If so, researchers can extend these interventions to reach people on their own devices. “I suspect the immersive nature of VR technology will confer additional benefits,” says Robinson.

Advances in virtual reality can automate the diagnosis of mental health conditions through a set of basic biometric data that can be collected, such as movement, reaction time, eye tracking and voice analysis , shares Robinson. Data can be used for diagnosis and personalization of mental health interventions.

“As we develop evidence on the effectiveness of virtual reality mental health interventions, we can present this data to payers and employers to help them subsidize the cost of immersive technologies and interventions,” Robinson says.

Cooperation and information

Understanding mental health remains a priority. Virtual reality capabilities provide the opportunity to create experiences and interventions co-designed with mental health practitioners to be tailored for treatment and management. In October 2022, York University created a Virtual Reality Choir to understand the health and wellness benefits of virtual singing. “Virtual reality is [a] fabulous tool,” says Dr. Helena Daffern, Professor at AudioLab, University of York.

Through its virtual choir, researchers can observe users and better understand how people interact, practically and emotionally, which has informed later stages of technology development and design. Future opportunities exist to “investigate ways to expand the technology to better understand the user within a broader diagnostic framework,” Daffern shares.

The game provides opportunities for edutainment

Education and entertainment, or edutainment, merge in gaming apps for mental health. “Gaming is the biggest sector of the entertainment industry and gamers are raising more and more money for charity while playing,” says Jen Bott, Senior Fundraising Manager for Help for Heroes. A games and mental health company DeepWell Digital Therapeutics was born in March 2022 to launch gameplay that combines entertainment and accelerated treatment.

“Unfortunately, video games are not very common in the mental health landscape,” points out the developer and lead researcher, Dr Darren Edwards, senior lecturer in public health at Swansea University. After learning that around 50% of Europeans engage in video games, researchers at Swansea University developed ACTing Minds in 2022 to address this shortcoming.

The innovation leverages gamification of mental health interventions and embedded learning to present education in fun and engaging ways via Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It aims to teach users positive ACT-consistent behaviors such as building values, orientation, and acceptance rather than avoidance.

“Video games have the potential to play a huge role in supporting mental health education,” Edwards adds. Qualitative data from the interviews indicated that opportunities are present in psychoeducation that complement existing therapeutic work.

Recent insights reveal the importance of digital tools in providing short-term support to Gen Z men. Organizations are turning to games to help grow their presence with younger gaming audiences.

In November 2022, veteran Paul Colling completed the Help for Heroes’ Hero Up 11.11 gaming challenge. The fundraiser, which has seen Paul raise nearly £10,000, combines play with mental health awareness and support. “The game has a positive effect on all counts for me, it distracts me a bit from the pain,” says Colling. “Many of the veterans we support at Help for Heroes have shared how the game has been a valuable part of their lives when used appropriately,” adds Bott.

And after?

With overstretched healthcare systems stretched further after Covid, studies and companies are exploring how advanced technology can respond in today’s mental health landscape.

However, with the growing need for accurate understanding, informed treatment and support, questions remain about the balance between home technology and clinician-focused healthcare.

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