Mental Health Tools: From Office To Pocket - InformationWeek
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9/11/2014
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Alison Diana
Alison Diana
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Mental Health Tools: From Office To Pocket

Mobile apps and telehealth will never replace in-person treatment, but new tech tools can help millions who suffer from mental health conditions. Consider these apps and services.
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More than one-fourth of US adults struggle with mental illness, according to The Kim Foundation. As healthcare experts work to improve awareness and access to mental health professionals, they hope that technologies such as telehealth, social media, and mobile apps will help reduce this statistic and improve the nation's overall psychological health.

The suicide rate for people between ages 35 and 64 grew 30% between 1999 and 2010, up from 13.7 to 17.6 people per 100,000. In 2010, 38,364 people committed suicide -- in comparison, 33,687 died in motor vehicle accidents, according to a 2013 report released by the Centers for Disease Control.

While suicide rates among younger and older people have remained fairly consistent, the study found an increase among middle-aged residents -- a group historically not specifically targeted by mental health experts or suicide prevention specialists. Suicide rates increased 32% among women aged 35 to 64 and 27% for men in the same age group, the CDC reported. Worse, suicide rates increased 48% in people aged 50 to 54, and 49% among those aged 55 to 59.

To support World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10, the World Health Organization has released Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative, a resource that advocates reducing access to means for suicide, responsible media reporting, and early identification and management of mental and substance abuse disorders. The organization also recommends follow-up care by phone or personal visit as well as community support. As part of the WHO Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, member nations have committed to the goal of reducing suicide rates by 10% by 2020.

With today's increased access to general healthcare, primary care physicians are often the first clinicians to see those with mental health conditions, according to Dane Hallberg, CEO of My M3, developer of an app that screens for conditions such as anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. "If you don't have mental health, you don't have physical health -- and vice versa," Hallberg pointed out. "Twenty-eight percent of hospital readmission rates are due to a behavioral disorder. It raises the rates for all of us." Based on respondents' answers, the app provides resources such as a suicide hotline number. To ensure confidentiality, Hallberg added, the website does not store users' answers.

Technology -- which some people associate with job loss and other problems, along with feelings of depression and isolation -- can also help combat mental health issues. Many individuals are more likely to answer questions honestly using consumer-oriented apps and websites, according to Dr. Gerald Hurowitz, a psychiatrist and co-creator of What's My M3, which is available to both consumers and healthcare enterprises.

"Having the opportunity to complete the M3 in private and electronically provides a greater sense of anonymity -- and users report that there is a correspondingly greater tendency to provide honest answers to the questionnaire," he said. "Having ready access to a measure of one’s mental health -- via the Internet, smartphone, and one's doctor's office -- is a simple but effective way to protect the public from the scourge of suicide."

Many clinical psychologists believe mobile apps could improve patient care, according to a study by Sigma Research for SelfEcho. In fact, 66% of respondents said obtaining additional patient data via a mobile app would enhance their ability to treat patients, and 73% said a mental health app would help them track patients' progress.

However, while early research indicates some consumer-oriented apps -- primarily those developed with input by mental health professionals -- can help address stress, depression, suicidal thoughts, addiction, and other challenges, most lack scientific evidence about their efficacy, according to a paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. That's why SelfEcho is targeting mental health professionals, not patients, with its Mobile Therapy software. The application is expected to ship later this year, said Shelly Gable, who holds a PhD in social psychology and is part of SelfEcho's leadership team.

"One of the things I've been advocating is this idea of proscriptive versus prescriptive ideas. I would be wary of mental health apps that claim to have an answer or claim to have a one-size-fits-all or if 'you do this you will be better' approach, because mental health is such a complex thing and there are so many facets to treatment," she said. "Our approach is to gather data and deliver [it to] someone who can deliver treatment -- [someone] who has knowledge based on training, but also based on knowing additional information from the client."

Others take a dual approach. Thousands of patients use Ginger.io in consultation with healthcare providers, but users can also download it without input from a clinician. The app, which seeks and tracks changes in patient behavior, integrates big data and workflow to alert clinicians to potential changes that could signal conditions such as depression.

Mental health professionals increasingly leverage telemedicine to deliver services to people who are unable or unwilling to visit doctors' offices. The Department of Veterans Affairs has used telehealth to treat schizophrenics since 2002, Dr. Adam Darkins, chief of telehealth services, told InformationWeek earlier this year. Over the past two years the organization has expanded mental health services within veterans' homes, he said. Many other organizations, public and private, have followed suit, connecting patients with psychiatrists, psychologists, or counselors via secure videoconference lines.

Telemedicine provider Reach Health sees a growing need from mental health clinicians, said CEO Steve McGraw, in an interview. Pointing out that about one in eight emergency room visits involves substance abuse or another mental health issue, he said, "You can't just dismiss the patient because you don't have someone to treat them."

As more consumers gain access to primary care, general practitioners and mental health specialists will be tasked to serve a growing population of patients. Integrated wisely, technologies like telehealth and mobile applications can help support this mission. Read on for some examples.

Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
10/2/2014 | 2:49:08 PM
Re: technology tools are stepping stones but helping comes forms of being nice in the digital domain
Unfortunately, we don't have good treatments for others. 

Yes, and some of the side effects of medications are detrimental and some are very annoying. I know a person who suffers from bipolar disorder and the medication makes her hungry and thirsty. So she's constantly on a diet and she avoids taking the meds so she won't crave food.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
9/15/2014 | 12:11:33 PM
Re: Not a bad plan
I cannot answer whether medical professionals would recommend these apps, but have seen stats that say general practitioners are the first line of defense for 70% of mental health cases. If some of those GPs recommend a patient sees a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional, perhaps an app could help until the specialist's appointment?
soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
9/15/2014 | 11:26:58 AM
Re: yearly spike
Thank you, Alison_Diana for setting the record straight! I had heard the stat decades ago, and assumed it was due to people being alone at holiday time.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
9/15/2014 | 10:45:31 AM
Re: yearly spike
It's a myth that more people commit suicide at the holidays, according to the CDC. Actually, fewer suicides occur in December -- the rate peaks in spring and fall. Unfortunately, about half the articles about suicide continue to propogate that myth, the CDC found.

http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/suicide/holiday.html

 

 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
9/15/2014 | 10:43:06 AM
Re: technology tools are stepping stones but helping comes forms of being nice in the digital domain
Sadly, people can be extremely cruel online, @geektech, so I wouldn't think open, online groups are necessarily the best place to feel accepted or get support unless they are heavily moderated and overseen, perhaps by those trainied in counseling people with mental health conditions? As I wrote in the article, I don't believe technology replaces healthcare professionals and/or medication in all cases (probably not in many cases), but some of these apps and solutions appear to complement or provide a first line of defense for those who need assistance. Hopefully society is improving the way it understands those with mental health issues, realizing people are not "dumb or crazy." Like any other condition, it's something certain people have, certain people don't, and fortunately we do have treatments for some conditions. Unfortunately, we don't have good treatments for others. And it can be difficult to get the right treatments to the right patients. 

Congratulations on all your successes, @geektechTX. And wishing you many, many more.
geektechTX
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geektechTX,
User Rank: Guru
9/14/2014 | 2:32:44 PM
technology tools are stepping stones but helping comes forms of being nice in the digital domain
I live with mental disorder .. i am not dumb or  just crazy i been in technology 15 years or longer with training ..the tools help but getting rigth support groups and people to help and vent and get your frustrastrations out .many years ago i found meetup.com connected with other bipolar and depressed people it became an bonding moments this was before apps or smartphones ..i have 4 companies , started 2 of them in my near senior of high school dealing with bullies in technology work is daily fight and fighting people that think your ideas are too way beyond them ...remember all these tools ,apps , websites , services make it easier but mostly onlinec culture now days the usually intelligent people suffer from mental stigma ..envirormental and genes ..

because i live with a disorder for 15 years now my own demeons ..just best prevention online or real world is to be nice people with disablities and developement mental disablities ..i just survived two Overdoses in hospital and Cardiac arrest 3 months ago i shouldnt be here ..

 

if a guy or women is mad online be nice to them send them an gift or offer to find help for them usually the mean people are huriing online . 
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
9/13/2014 | 11:10:45 AM
Re: Not a bad plan
@David. I agree. If the person with mental health accepts that they have a problem, they will be more likely to use an idea.  I would think if someone thinks they do not have a problemn they would not see a need to monitor their mood on a regular basis.  Would future health care professionals recommend such apps to their patients and monitor their mental health prior to a session?
soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
9/11/2014 | 9:14:32 PM
Re: Not a bad plan
 It could help them get a quick diagnosis

Agreed, Shane. I just wonder how quick it can be--especially for something as serious as Bipolar Disorder.  I haven't tested any of the apps, but I wonder how many "normal" or mentally stable people choose "mental" answers--or answer the questions and then they get a borderline response.
soozyg
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50%
soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
9/11/2014 | 9:02:36 PM
yearly spike
 In 2010, 38,364 people committed suicide

In the US, I believe the stat has been that the majority of suicides happen over the Holiday Season, so November-January and the demographic skews older. But I heard that stat a long time ago--may have changed since then.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
9/11/2014 | 6:06:21 PM
Re: Not a bad plan
The biggest barrier for someone with mental health issues is taking those first steps to get help. The immediacy and intimacy of a mobile app makes it easier. It could help them get a quick diagnosis and connect them with similar people digitally without it being public. The challenge is then making the transition to get the necessary in-person help. But there's no question tech can smooth that transition.
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