In our last article, on the power of breathing with awareness, we referred to my calm beat app and a yoga nidra app, which are available to help with mindful breathing. This is just the tip of the iceberg as to the way that technology is beginning to play a major role in our society’s approach to mental health.

Virtual Reality To Help PTSD?

For some years there has been speculation and study into the possible uses of virtual reality technology as a means of helping to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While it is still an evolving idea, in America it is already being used as an exposure therapy tool for returning combat veterans with PTSD. Albert Rizzo is director of medical virtual reality at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies. He explains that they, “place the person in Virtual Reality simulations that the clinician can control in real time, and customise based on that person’s experience, but in a safe environment.”

The Guardian article, ‘Can Virtual Reality Really Cure Phobias’, looks into this, and also the potential for virtual reality to help people to quit smoking and to rid people of their fear of spiders.

Sleep & SmartphoneSleep Tracking Technology

Another major area of innovation is using the tracking and monitoring capabilities of the latest smartphones and Fitbits. There have been developments in sleep tracking, either through manual means like the sleepbot app, or using a Fitbit or similar device which can now track sleep patterns automatically. This could be of great benefit  for a patient working with a therapist or GP to monitor their ongoing sleep patterns.

Innovations in Mental Health Podcast

We found an interesting Guardian podcast, ‘Innovations in mental Health’, from their tech weekly podcast. The episode explores the interplay between mental health and technology from a number of different perspectives. It begins by examining the possible negative impact of the trend to live more and more of our lives online. In particular it hones in on the pros and cons of the younger generation’s capacity to spend a huge percentage of their waking hours engaging with a smart device of some sort. The next part of the podcast interviews patients and therapists to provide examples of the ways in which apps and online technology are being used to empower mental health patients in various treatment scenarios. Examples include technology’s ability to provide an online support community, or to allow feedback and monitoring of patient moods. During the podcast, interviews from people using these innovations bring up the need to balance technological advancements with traditional therapy methods, based around face to face interaction with a therapist in the same room as the patient. One study referred to, showed that it was in fact through regular human contact with a therapist that patients were most likely to continue using the apps that were helping with their recovery. The last section of the podcast investigates the initiatives at play to try to integrate modern app use into the NHS.

We are at an interesting time for innovation across all areas of online and computer technology. This is coupled with rapid improvements in user interface design. The results mean we could soon be witnessing many new solutions- some not yet even imagined- to the mental health challenges of today.