Recently, the BBC and All Africa published articles on Grand Challenges Canada’s new investments in mental health care in developing countries. These investments, more than $19 million worth, will support 15 innovative projects aimed at improving mental health diagnosis and care, including several projects that will employ mobile health or telemedicine outreach.
In Afghanistan, for example, where nearly half of all Afghanis older than 15 suffer from depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, Grand Challenges Canada is funding work that uses text messages, web-based tools, and teleconferencing to enable people in rural areas to get mental health care. In Sri Lanka, Grand Challenges Canada is supporting a project that will expand access to online mental health care. In Nigeria, the funding will go to a project that uses cellphones to offer counseling and support to women struggling with postpartum depression.
In a recent blog, Tech urSelf CEO, Belinda Liu, wrote, “Yes, improving your physical health is important, but what about the quality of your life?” This got me thinking about the intersections of mHealth and mental health and about how our physical and mental health are inextricably linked and both are tied to our overall quality of life.
At TechurSelf, we talk about our app, urWell, as a ‘pocket coach,’ that can help you understand trends in your life and how those habits affect your happiness and well-being. Like all coaches, the key is motivation. The user is the one inputting the information, and the one who actually has to act to make changes in his/her life. But coping with mental illness can require a lot more than just motivation. I started looking for other ways people are using mHealth tools to support mental well-being and found a couple of articles that discuss this kind of work:
- Mental Healthcare on the Go – There’s an App for That by Jennifer Gibson
- Smartphone Apps Become ‘Surrogate Therapists’ by Elizabeth Landau
One example from Landau’s article particularly caught my eye. The new Live OCD Free app employs a technique called exposure and response prevention and allows people to exercise this coping strategy through an app. Many people with an obsessive, compulsive disorder (OCD), engage in repetitive behaviors when they are anxious. The app challenges users to face their fears head-on without engaging in the repetitive behavior.
For example, while logged into the app, the user might be asked leave the house repeatedly during a given time period without checking the door lock multiple times. If they give in and check door lock before the app timer is up, then they are supposed to press the “Just Gave In” button on the app. It is essentially app-lead behavioral modification and feedback, and a fascinating example of how technology can help us face mental health challenges and change our lives.
Getting and staying healthy and happy is something we all have to commit to, in word and in practice. For people who struggle with mental illness, there is too often a stigma attached to admitting there is a problem and seeking care. But I think when used in collaboration with a mental health professional, there is tremendous potential for mobile devices to offer the kind of encouragement and feedback people need to stay on track with pursuing their own mental and physical wellness. In many places in the world, where there are real geographic and cultural obstacles to seeking mental health care, mobile technology will be even more important in offering services that too many people live without.
This blog was originally published on the Tech urSelf blog.