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John MacMillan, Head of Daisy Health, asks whether we can trust mobile technology to monitor our mental health.

Telehealth is becoming a household name in the media and health sector alike and continues to make a significant impact on the control of physical illnesses and long-term health conditions, and the way they are treated.

Considering the popularity of wearable health devices and fitness apps, the progression into the realms of mental health was only natural, and perhaps predictable given the explosion of technology in all aspects of our lives.

Big data for big results

Some people are already grasping the big data opportunity to connect to their psychiatrists and relay daily stats about their psychological wellbeing. Others meanwhile, prefer the discretion of an app for the self-doctoring of every day stresses and to assess the effectiveness of their coping strategies.

One such app, is that produced by start-up company Ginger.io which boasts the motto -smarter care starts with your smartphone. The app collects personal information about an individual such as their location, call and text message logs and app usage to monitor them and highlight when behaviours seem to be unusual compared to trends for that person.

Meanwhile, other applications monitor a range of factors including diet, exercise, relaxation and communication. Some are solely focussed on using different breathing techniques as a means of combatting headaches and relieving bad moods.

But when treatment for mental illnesses relies so much on communication, rather than scientific measures such as blood pressure which we have seen widely monitored for physical health, can an app ever suffice as a tool for reassurance and prevention in such sensitive circumstances?

This is the main debate in relation to the use of technology in a mental health environment- and rightly so. Any technology has to be able to promote patient self-care while simultaneously reducing the need for personal expert appointments, in order to promote cost and time efficiencies.

The app revolution

That said, when used correctly, apps and big data could prove just as successful in the treatment of mental illnesses as they have done for physical conditions, such as heart disease and epilepsy.

As with “telehealth” and “telemedicine”, an app can be made to connect with the relevant care provider who can have access to the recorded information and act upon it accordingly. This inevitably assigns greater autonomy to the individual and removes them from the potentially unnecessary setting of a hospital or a psychiatrist’s waiting room.

The full benefits of technology for the monitoring of metal illnesses are yet to be seen, but if adopted in the correct manner, apps could soon prove to be a vital tool for control and prevention. After all, an app can provide round-the-clock support when alternative help may not be available. It is by no means a substitution for expert care, but a combination of the two could see great results.

About Emma Catlow

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