These last two years have been challenging to say the least, and it has shed a light on our own mental health. Lockdowns, increased screen times, financial worries, stress and the lack of social interaction have all contributed to the worsening of our own mental health.
That said, as we enter post-Covid, one BMJ publication calls for urgent intervention as more people will require mental health support because of the pandemic.
Fortunately, to help alleviate this growing pressure, a number of digital health technologies have stepped in. But before we briefly look at these technologies with the help of leading experts, first, let’s take a look at why the current situation of mental health has reached the level it has today.
Why Was 2021 A Big Year For Mental Health
For the majority of the world, the first half of 2021 was under lockdown. Many countries were experiencing either a devastating second or third waves of Covid-19 cases. However, by the time we reached the summer, when Covid cases were showing signs of settling down, we saw first hand experiences of how the pandemic affected one’s mental health.
When the Tokyo Olympics took place, a handful of athletes openly discussed their mental health, highlighting that this is a much wider issue. And while the stigma against mental health has decreased rapidly in recent years, we can’t ignore the fact that these two years have made people endure prolonged periods of isolation, leading many to lean to their smartphones for comfort, which may not be good for one’s mental health as explained by Dr Elizabeth Lombardi. PHD, a health & wellness coach.
“Too much screen time may be detrimental, whether your whole family sits around gazing at their smartphones or you keep the TV on in the background. The light produced by electronic gadgets disrupts the brain’s sleep cycle, making it difficult to obtain a decent night’s sleep. Keep screens out of the bedroom and avoid them for at least an hour before climbing into bed to get a better night’s sleep,” said Lombardi.
Another factor that has played a pivotal role impacting mental health is lack of physical activity due people being cooped up at home. Jane Smorodnikova, Founder and Chief Product Owner of Welltory Inc. has gathered data of 3 million users through her firm’s app.
“Based on our data from 3 million users, we have charts presenting that [show] 92,4% of our users who are marked [under] ‘high risk of depression’ are not active enough,” said Smorodnikova.
But while physical activity can play a crucial role in mental health, prolonged periods of isolation can still impact one’s mental health.
Is Digital Exposure Responsible?
Prior to the pandemic, there were many reports of social media’s impact on mental health, in particular in children and young adults. According to the American Psychological Association, since the introduction of smartphones, the rate of adolescents reporting symptoms of depression has increased by 52% from 2005 to 2017. When this is combined with the exponential increase in screen time during the pandemic, more people were on social media as a result.
“One of the greatest factors coming up in relation to depression and anxiety is exposure to social media. Speaking even more broadly, increased screen time of any variety can contribute greatly to a decrease in one’s mental health,” said Brandon Condie, Co-Founder of Get Clear Health. “[Furthermore], digital exposure creates a great deal of imbalance in the individual’s perception of life.”
This skewed perception leads to unrealistic expectations of one’s own life and can lead to unhealthy comparisons.
The Digital Health Technologies Leading The Fight
At present, there are a multitude of apps that help assist with our mental health, this includes Calm and Headspace. In addition there are a plethora of healthcare companies now offering telemedicine, which allows patients to discuss their mental health with a healthcare professional remotely.
Telehealth is helping to tackle the growing mental health crisis by bringing care to those who need it and to those who have been lacking access to it until now. For example, one provider, Let’s Talk Interactive, have expanded their services to schools in Florida, as they believe the youth require more support than ever.
But accessing these apps or services can only be done via a digital medium. While it is widely expected that digital health technologies will greatly improve over time, it is important that we strike the right balance, as explained by Condie.
“In a healthier mental-health world, digital health technologies will [provide] more effective mental health tools. The catch is being able to do this while walking the razor-sharp fine line between healthy increases in access while concurrently rewarding users for decreased screen time. This is especially true in reference to social media platforms that predispose comparison,” said Condie.
Condie also added that when developing these digital health technology for mental health, developers should aim in creating “engaging, empirically researched tools” that can educate and incentivize in the right way.
An Exciting Time For Exploring New Digital Health Tech To Improve Mental
It is fair to say that we are living in a very exciting time for digital health innovation, especially with the buzz around the metaverse, which also has its controversies as well. That said, there are some exciting digital health technologies out there right now that are worth exploring.
Mayur Mistry is a journalist and founder of Think Copy, a content marketing agency for Digital Health & MedTech brands. With digital health revolutionizing healthcare, Mayur is super passionate about helping brands convey their message to their target audience.