Written by : Noah Rue
There’s an age-old saying: “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.” For many of us, that saying has never had more resonance than it does right now.
But health is about much more than just the physical. Health is also about mental, emotional, and social wellbeing. Unfortunately, for the millions who suffer with mental illness, that sense of peace and wellness has been elusive. Today’s medical technology, however, is starting to change that.
One of the greatest challenges facing the healthcare industry today is the significant information asymmetry through which it operates. It’s one of the few service industries, in other words, in which the service has most, if not all, the knowledge. And that puts the consumer (the patient) largely at the mercy of the healthcare provider — and their expertise.
But technology is rapidly changing that. Thanks to our increasingly interconnected, highly digitized world, patients, including those seeking mental health services, can find the information they need in a form that is accessible, affordable, and actionable. They can learn about potential diagnoses and treatments, as well as even connect directly with reliable experts whenever, wherever, and with whoever they choose. And, when it comes down to it, an informed patient is an empowered patient.
For patients suffering from mental illness, such empowerment is crucial, particularly because mental illness remains significantly stigmatized culturally. Even within the healthcare industry, few practitioners receive sufficient training in the treatment of mental illness. And that means that patients often go undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or ineffectively treated.
Charting a Better Course
Modern technology doesn’t just make for more informed and empowered patients when it comes to mental health — it also enables healthcare providers to identify individuals at risk and to develop intervention strategies that actually work.
For example, big data and artificial intelligence systems (AI) are beginning to be used to detect signs that an individual may be at risk of suicide or experiencing suicidal ideations. This is being tested in a number of different ways, from the use of big data algorithms to scan the electronic health records (EHR) of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of patients worldwide to determine what patient attributes are connected with attempted or completed suicide.
Likewise, AI systems can use machine learning to scan social media posts to identify markers of suicidality in the language and emojis in the social media posts of people who call in to crisis or suicide hotlines. The systems will then immediately notify the hotline counselor to the particular risks this caller may be facing, alerting them to the potential need for emergency care.
One of the most significant impacts of technology on mental healthcare, perhaps, has been in the use of telemedicine to ensure that patients can immediately connect with mental healthcare providers whenever they need it. In the age of coronavirus and in the face of ongoing lockdowns, this consistency of care and this accessibility of emergency mental health support can be, quite literally, a life saver.
Mental healthcare has been sorely lacking not only in the United States, but around the world, a result both of stigmatization and simple ignorance within the healthcare industry and society as a whole. But technology is rapidly changing all that. Thanks to our modern information age, patients with mental illness are more informed and empowered than ever before. Not only that, but they’re also less isolated than they’ve ever been. Even in the era of global lockdowns, persons with mental illness can connect with experts, mental healthcare providers, and an entire global community of those who, like them, are living, and learning to thrive, with mental illness.