Mental health awareness is rising, and with it, the tools to help everyone live happier and healthier lives. Similarly, the development of the Internet of Things (IoT) is increasing at a rapid pace. Coupling the two, by creating IoT devices to improve mental health, holds widespread benefits for our minds, public health and mental health research.
IoT for self-care
Many IoT applications in mental health focus on alleviating depression and anxiety. One concept involves a wristbandthat monitors for the symptoms of a panic attack. When an imminent attack is detected, the ‘Breathe Watch’ alerts the wearer and/or their carers, and provides calming techniques.
Similarly, Alexa and Google Assistant skills can help people detect potential mental health difficulties and provide assistance. Breathing exercises and verbal walk-throughs provide early relief. Basic diagnosis can be done, by asking users how well they are sleeping, eating, working and so forth. Based on the answers, the device may recommend specific advice (to improve sleeping patterns, for example) or tell someone to visit their doctor.
Of course, neither of these IoT applications are designed to fully replace doctors and psychologists. But it can make services more accessible and provide help when other solutions aren’t forthcoming. Any help is better than none at all.
IoT for clinicians
For medical professionals, the IoT can prove a vital diagnostic and care tool. Algorithms can analyse brain scan and wearable data for symptoms of bipolar disorder and depression. One study had a 92 per cent success rate.
The Fisher Wallace Stimulator is a medically-approved headband that stimulates the brain to release serotonin and dopamine. Reducing stress and increasing happiness in patients with depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Meanwhile, researchers have developed a way to use wearable sensors to flag anxiety and depression in young children at an earlier stage than routine screening. It can detect mental health issues within 20 seconds – a process that takes months for clinicians to diagnose. The process is also inexpensive and can reduce the risk of suicide and drug abuse.
The care for patients with special needs will also improve. A prototype device for autistic people has been developed that will alert practitioners about changes in their mood, stress and heart rate.
Data security concerns
However, for the IoT to gain a significant foothold in mental health care, the devices must be secure and medical grade. Data from such devices will be incredibly sensitive and some patients may not be comfortable with being monitored.
A secure end-to-end network is essential, and the entire security lifecycle must be considered. Unfortunately, current IoT security is not always optimal – something that’s been noted by both the UK and U.S. Governments.
To allay fears over data leaks, IoT manufacturers targeting healthcare and mental health must communicate their stringent security measures. Using federated data to spot trends in a population is a potential solution that circumnavigates the complexities around patient personal data. However, it limits the level of insights needed to provide optimum mental health care.
Still, the early experiments using the IoT for mental health is a step in the right direction, Opening up the conversation around the technology’s applications for our mental health and adding to the vital discussions happening in society. Every mind matters – and the IoT will help us care for each one.
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