Friday, June 21, 2019

California Tests Mental Health Apps

mental health
Smartphones have transformed the way we live in myriad ways. These tiny pocket computers, which give people the power to learn, shop, schedule, organize, and connect with their peers, are invaluable to most people. Young Americans cannot even remember life before the iPhone, nor would they dare to imagine existing without smartphones.

The potential for phones and tablets is seemingly limitless. Each year, developers pack more and more power into the devices which allows users more freedom to create, explore, and communicate in new ways with individuals across the globe. While smartphones and apps can make our lives easier, they can also prevent us from being present. So, it’s essential to find a balance and take steps to limit screen time.

Most application developers do not set out to change the world. An exploration through app stores proves that there are some incredible things people can and will spend $1 on for entertainment. However, several companies have chosen to harness the power of smartphones to help people with their internal struggles. Today, there exist a plethora of apps that are meant to assist people with their mental health.

California is home to some of the biggest tech companies in the world; Silicon Valley is ground zero for the latest in innovation. An experiment is currently underway to determine if smartphone applications can help state and county mental health officials address the needs of people living with mental illness.

Make Mental Health Services More Available


When we use our phones patterns emerge, a picture of who we are and how we go about our day is transposed into data. Observations into how long someone is on their smartphone, the apps used, and what they post could theoretically give experts a window into said person’s mental health.

Last summer, the California Mental Health Services Authority selected two app companies to collaborate with county services, The New York Time reports. Mindstrong, founded by Dr. Paul Dagum, created an alternate keyboard to embed on patient participants’ smartphones. The other company, 7 Cups, cofounded by psychologist Glen Moriarty, is a digital mental health network.

The Mindstrong app monitors users “moment-to-moment screen activity;” its algorithms establish a person’s baseline phone behaviors. If a participant’s usage appears abnormal, the app will sound an alarm that an emotional crisis could be coming. The application also has a diary feature that allows users to chart how they are feeling from one day to the next. Los Angeles County has distributed the technology thus far.

“I like the diary card,” said Skyy Brewer, 30, who has used the diary since to manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. “At therapy, you can go through the cards for the week and see the good days and bad ones, and figure out why your moods were off.” 

7 Cups was co-founded by former National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) director Thomas R. Insel—a psychiatrist and neuroscientist. The app pairs participants with company-trained “listeners,” according to the article. A listener will determine if the user is in crisis and connect them with a 7 Cups therapist.

The collaboration between the tech sector and the California Mental Health Services Authority has run into some difficulties (e.g., privacy concerns) since the beginning. However, the findings of the research could end up helping millions of people down the road. It will be interesting to see what the experts determine.

“It’s been a little rough in the beginning, I have to say, and it may take a couple of years,” Dr. Insel said. “The program may have to fail at first.”

California Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorder Treatment


Please contact Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat if you are struggling with addiction and a co-occurring mental illness like depression or anxiety. We can help you detox from drugs and alcohol, address your mental health needs, and give you the tools to lead a healthy and productive life in recovery.

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