How Can Technology Change The Future Of Mental Health?

Contrary to expectations, technology can do a lot for the benefit of people with mental illness.

Mental illness is itself a very delicate subject to deal with. We never know who’s suffering from what and why. Every mind experiences reality in a different way. That’s why, when it comes to talking about mental health issues, we must always be respectful and empathetic. Sure, some issues are more approachable than others, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be treated and handled equally.

Regarding mental health, schizophrenia has always been one of the most controversial topics to deal with. Because the condition itself is complex, it is often misconceived and misjudged. People that suffer from this mental disorder tend to live very lonely lives, and not because of the illness itself, but because people around them (friends, family, partners) don’t feel comfortable with their situation, and eventually drift apart.

Research and experiments on this matter are very complicated but also recurrent. Voices and hallucinations, as well as the particular state of mind they lead to are very sensitive matters to work with, and still there are a lot of psychiatrists, psychologists, and neurologists that relentlessly try to find a new way to address this particular mental condition.

Among the most recent breakthroughs in this context, researchers have found out that the digital era we live in can do more for people with schizophrenia than we thought. The popular belief regarding schizophrenic patients and digital devices stated that these two couldn't get along well, because at some point, people with this condition would end up feeling anxious or out of place when using a smartphone or a tablet. There is actually very limited information about the digital habits of a person living with schizophrenia, and that’s why, not so long ago, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) decided to step forward in this matter.

To do so, NAMI designed an online poll that focused on exploring the role technology plays in their lives. This research aimed to gain understanding of how personal technology is helping people living with schizophrenia cope with their symptoms and particular lifestyle. It is worth mentioning that this study is the largest to date looking at ownership and use of technology among individuals with this condition. Interestingly enough, the results showed that they actually use digital technology as much as the rest of the population, and as a matter of fact, it did help them cope with the effects of their illness.

From 457 patients with schizophrenia that took the survey, 90% of them owned more than one digital device such as a personal computer, tablet, or smartphone. And how did they use technology to cope with their illness?

From the results obtained, 42% use technology to block or manage auditory hallucinations with music or audio files, 38% search for health information on the Internet, 32% satisfy transportation and map needs, 28% find it useful for medication management, 26% for supporting others and developing relationships with other people with schizophrenia, 25% monitor symptoms, and a 24% use it to find coping strategies that suits them best.

This is just the beginning of a new way of life for people with schizophrenia. Not only that but also technology already being used for their own benefit. Now that it has become a known fact, scientists can focus their attention on developing technological strategies that help these people cope with their illness in a more personalized way. Sure, they’re not making the hallucinations and voices go away, but in a way, they’re helping them cope with these symptoms in a more natural way.

Studies like this one have become a clear sign that we should stop believing mental illness is too detached from our everyday lives. The fact that we don’t have to deal with a major illness doesn’t mean that people who do can’t have a quality life too.

Photo credit: Vvittik

If you’re still interested in mental health topics, you might also enjoy reading How Marvel’s Fantasy Show Is Changing The Face Of Mental Illness or How Mental Illnesses Created Literary Geniuses.