Digital technology and virtual reality changing the face of mental health treatment

Digital technology and virtual reality changing the face of mental health treatment

September 19, 2019

Digital technology and virtual reality changing the face of mental health treatment

Depression Mental Health

The advancement of digital technology is a boon for multiple sectors. One particular sector that has benefited and can make the most of this technology is the healthcare sector, especially the mental healthcare domain. Digital technology has a lot of potential and can help in mental health treatment. From virtual counseling to treatment across various locations in the world, there are endless number of possibilities.

Of the many types of programs available, one particular form of treatment, known as “blended treatment”, where technology and human self-service is combined is deemed highly promising. Dr. Jen Martin, senior program manager at the mental health MindTech MedTech Co-operative, said that digital technology can be used to bridge the gap between the number of mental health patients and mental health doctors.

An example of how digital technology helps can be seen in a mobile app for mental health called ClinTouch. This app allows professionals to keep a track of patients suffering from mental health disorders especially schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychosis. Patients are asked about their emotional health several times a day keeping a check on relapses. The app even sends an emergency warning to the healthcare workers in case of an indication of a relapse. Nearly 50 percent of the app users have found it to be useful and they are generally compliant, however, some of them suggested a couple of changes like medication reminders and diary facility.

From then to now

When digital technology in healthcare was first introduced, it seemed nothing more than science fiction. Professionals from the healthcare sector were against it, adamant it would never work, and that patients would never use it. But with time, things have started to change. With greater scientific evidences and successful trails, healthcare professionals have gradually started accepting technology. Currently, scientists are focusing on how social media and devices such as fitness bands and smartphones can help in providing mental healthcare. Dr. Sandra Bucci, a clinical psychologist at University of Manchester, said that they were adapting ClinTouch to provide cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) sessions for patients dealing with psychosis and would soon be conducting test runs.

A couple of healthcare organizations have also adopted a technology named telepsychiatry which includes video conferencing sessions. A healthcare technology company named Helios provides therapy sessions via video conferencing and virtual reality. Fortunately, several members of a family can be included in these sessions. Rich Andrews, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Helios, shared that there is tremendous potential in data analysis. He said that traditional methods like questionnaires which were used to assess mental health can be swapped with digital technology. Using gadgets like a smartphone, professionals can evaluate a patient’s mental health from any location by analyzing their voice, how fast they swipe, or by observing the content of their social media interactions.

Virtual reality application also looks promising

Another form of technology with great potential for helping in the mental health sector is virtual reality also knows as VR. It has the capability to help a wide range of mental health disorders including depression. Daniel Freeman, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford, said that there was no shortage of ideas when it came to VR; all that has to be done is use the resources properly and handle one disorder at a time. In fact, Freeman has led a clinical trial on treating people with the fear of heights with the help of virtual headsets. The results of the study were astonishing and showed a higher level of success rate than the usual one-on-one therapy.

Boosted by the positive results, Freeman and his team has even started working on another VR treatment program for patients suffering from psychosis. This module involves helping patients deal with the fear of crowded places like a bus or a café. Freeman and his colleagues identified that people tend to overestimate the bad things that could happen with them, however, with the help of VR, they were empowered to navigate smoothly in such crowded places. VR can also help in treating obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression.

Example of how healthcare has benefited

Here are a few examples of how technology has helped in mental health treatment:

  • According to Adam Hesselden, a residential manager of a dementia home facility, after the installation of VR gadgets like iPads, headsets, and virtual speakers, calls to hospitals for emergency room services had reduced by nearly 29 percent and the need for drugs mostly disappeared.
  • Few old age homes with mental health patients offer video conferencing and virtual travel facilities. This helps the patient to connect with their family or even visit their favorite park or theatre with the help of virtual travel.
  • Another program that has been started by many facilities involves communication between the elderly patients and young children. They communicate with the help of technology like emails, video calls, and even virtual conferencing. While the children help the patients learn more about technology, the patients, in turn, share their life experiences with the children making it a win-win situation for both.

Recovering from mental health disorders

While mental health disorders like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are much discussed about, depression is often ignored. Depression is in fact the most common form of mental health disorder and also the most ignored. According to a health report, as many as 350 million people suffer from depression all over the world.

If you or someone you know is displaying major depressive disorder symptoms and is looking for inpatient programs for depression, get in touch with Invictus Health Group. The medical team at our network facilities can help identify the mental disorder and the underlying causes. Based on this, it can individualize a treatment program that can be administered at any of our state-of-the-art network facilities. For more information about inpatient treatment centers for depression, call our 24/7 helpline 866-548-0190 and speak with a member from our admissions team. You can also chat online with a representative for further assistance.

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