Mental illness: there’s an app for that

By Gayle McNaught

Black Dog Institute is joining UNSW and the University of Sydney to present a one-day symposium on the new ways that technology is improving our mental health.

Do we really need to be physically face to face with patients to improve mental health? As technology advances, so does its potential use in health care. Data analytics, smartphones, social media and sensors are now being used to both detect poor mental health and successfully deliver interventions. This raises an important question. Do we really need to be physically face-to-face with people to provide quality mental health care?

Yes and no, says Black Dog Institute Chief Scientist and e-mental health pioneer Professor Helen Christensen who argues that whilst people experiencing severe mental illness do need comprehensive face-to-face care, those with mild to moderate symptoms of our most common mental disorders may not need a physical intervention.

“Gold standard psychological therapy such as CBT can be delivered via the internet, and research clearly shows that online or app-based psychological interventions can be just as effective as meeting with a clinician face-to-face. This means people who may not be able to attend face-to-face therapy, or those may not want to due to perceived stigma, can still access quality treatment programs.”

Professor Christensen says it is also about choice and empowerment. People may prefer the anonymity and convenience of the online environment. They may prefer to mix and match clinician and online resources. With new technologies useful across the medical spectrum, there are a number of features that make them especially impactful for mental health.

“Mental health tools can actually work better when they are mobile and accessible 24/7,” says Professor Christensen who adds that Smartphones can reveal much about our behaviour by taking account of activity levels and sleep patterns and enable us to engage with online treatment programs as needed or real-time crisis chat.

“Technology also allows us tailor interventions to those that need them, for example the use of online games can be an effective tool for teaching young people how to manage exam stress.”

Professor Christensen says researchers are using big data and social media to gain real time insights into how the human mind works and gain unprecedented understanding of how major world events can impact the collective mental health of communities.

“All of these programs will drastically improve our ability to both detect mental illness early and deliver interventions effectively without having to rely on the local availability of clinicians.”

Black Dog Institute is joining UNSW and University of Sydney to present a one-day symposium on the new ways that technology is improving our mental health. Speakers at the Humans and Machines: A Quest for Better Mental Health symposium will include Professor Tom Insel, former Director of the US National Institutes of Mental Health and now Chief Neuroscientist at Google Life Sciences and Professor Nic Christakis from Yale University who will be talking about online social networks and how they can impact society.

Other topics being covered include:

  • Using smartphones to measure, map and change social connectedness in real time
  • Successful delivery of mental health care using online programs and apps
  • How big data helps genomics in mental health research
  • Why are online health records a better predictor of mental illness than clinical assessment?
  • Use of virtual reality in mental health treatment
  • Can positive computing do more than human moderators?

This event is being MC’d by Jane Caro

More information or to purchase tickets »