The use of electronic and communication technologies as a therapeutic aid to healthcare practices is commonly referred to as telemedicine or eHealth. The use of such technologies as a supplement to mainstream therapies for mental disorders is an emerging mental health treatment field which, it is argued, could improve the accessibility, effectiveness and affordability of mental health care. Mental health technologies used by professionals as an adjunct to mainstream clinical practices include email, SMS, virtual reality, computer programmes, blogs, social networks, the telephone, video conferencing, computer games, instant messaging and podcasts.
Technology and the Treatment of Mental Health Issues
Traditional methods of helping people with a mental health problem have been to use approaches such as medication, counselling, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), exercise and a healthy diet. New technology can also be used in conjunction with traditional methods.
Virtual reality exposure therapy
Rizzo et al. have used Virtual Reality (VR) (simulated real environments through digital media) to successfully treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The VR system offers a sense of realism in a safe environment. By gradually exposing the person to their fear with a Virtual Environment the patient becomes accustomed to the trigger of their problem to an extent that it no longer becomes an issue. This form of treatment has also been applied to other mental health problems such as phobias (where anxiety is triggered by a certain situation). For example, fear of flying or arachnophobia (fear of spiders). Computer games have also been used to provide therapy for adolescents. Many adolescents are reluctant to have therapy and a computer game is a fun, anonymous and accessible way to receive therapeutic advice.
Relatively new technology such as mobile phones have also been used to help people with mental health problems by providing timely information. David Haniff produced a computer application that would present media to someone suffering from depression in order to lift their mood also a computer game has been produced to examine the triggers of depression. For example, pictures of the patient's family or their voice.
As technology improves, it may soon be possible for mobile phones or other devices to sense when sufferers are changing state (e.g. entering a manic or a deeply depressed phase), for instance by noticing a change in voice pattern or usage frequency, or facial tension. It may also become possible to measure physical evidence of levels of distress and suffering, such as changes in hormones or adrenalin in blood, and changes in brain activity. Apps may also be able to predict high stress situations, based on location, time, activity (e.g. purchasing of alcohol) and nearby presence of high risk people. The technoogy could then send calming messages to sufferers, automatically alert carers and even automatically administer meds.
Technology can therefore be used in innovative ways to provide support for those with mental health problems. However, one size does not fit all and some technologies may not be suitable for certain people.
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