Use of technology in treatment of mental disorders

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The use of electronic and communication technologies as a therapeutic aid to healthcare practices is commonly referred to as telemedicine[1] or eHealth.[2] The use of such technologies as a supplement to mainstream therapies for mental disorders is an emerging mental health treatment field which, it is argued, could improve the accessibility, effectiveness and affordability of mental health care.[3][4] Mental health technologies used by professionals as an adjunct to mainstream clinical practices include email, SMS, virtual reality, computer programs, blogs, social networks, the telephone, video conferencing, computer games, instant messaging and podcasts.[5]

Technology and the treatment of mental health iIssues[edit]

Traditional methods of helping people with a mental health problem have been to use approaches such as medication, counselling, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exercise and a healthy diet. New technology can also be used in conjunction with traditional methods.

Virtual reality exposure therapy[edit]

Rizzo et al.[6] have used virtual reality (VR) (simulated real environments through digital media) to successfully treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The VR system offers a sense of realism in a safe environment. By gradually exposing the person to their fear with a Virtual Environment the patient becomes accustomed to the trigger of their problem to an extent that it no longer becomes an issue. This form of treatment has also been applied to other mental health problems such as phobias (where anxiety is triggered by a certain situation). For example, fear of flying or arachnophobia (fear of spiders). Computer games have also been used to provide therapy for adolescents.[7] Many adolescents are reluctant to have therapy and a computer game is a fun, anonymous and accessible way to receive therapeutic advice. An example of a computer game that provides such therapy is SPARX, which has notably been shown to be about as effective as face-to-face therapy in a clinical trial.[8]

Mobile devices[edit]

Relatively new technology such as mobile phones have also been used to help people with mental health problems by providing timely information.[9][10] David Haniff produced a computer application that would present media to someone suffering from depression in order to lift their mood[11] and produced a computer game to examine the triggers of depression.[12] For example, pictures of the patient's family or their voice. Another way to lift the mood of patients are subliminal relaxing music on an mpg file to get rid of the noise of everyday living.

As technology improves, it may soon be possible for mobile phones or other devices to sense when sufferers are changing state (e.g. entering a manic or a deeply depressed phase), for instance by noticing a change in voice pattern or usage frequency, or facial tension. It may also become possible to measure physical evidence of levels of distress and suffering, such as changes in hormones or adrenalin in blood, and changes in brain activity. Apps may also be able to predict high stress situations, based on location, time, activity (e.g. purchasing of alcohol) and nearby presence of high risk people. The technology could then send calming messages to sufferers, automatically alert carers and even automatically administer meds.[13]

In May 2013, a website was released by MyPsychTES to connect therapists and counselors with patients who use smartphone applications to track emotions and lifestyle. This streamlines therapist-client communication. The system provides real-time data, automated communication tools, and alerts.[citation needed] Technology can also be used to combat dark thoughts or intrusive thought (unwanted thoughts).[citation needed] To move away from dark thoughts you can provide positive approaches to cognition such as text on a mobile phone with positive affirmations or exercise routines on a mobile phones.

Technology can therefore be used in innovative ways to provide support for those with mental health problems. However, one size does not fit all and some technologies may not be suitable for certain people.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Wechsler, L. R.; Tsao, J. W.; Levine, S. R.; Swain-Eng, R. J.; Adams, R. J.; Demaerschalk, B. M.; Hess, D. C.; Moro, E.; Schwamm, L. H.; Steffensen, S.; Stern, B. J.; Zuckerman, S. J.; Bhattacharya, P.; Davis, L. E.; Yurkiewicz, I. R.; Alphonso, A. L.; American Academy of Neurology Telemedicine Work Group (2013). "Teleneurology applications: Report of the Telemedicine Work Group of the American Academy of Neurology". Neurology. 80 (7): 670–676. doi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182823361. PMC 3590056free to read. PMID 23400317. 
  2. ^ Mea, V. D. (2001). "What is e-Health (2): The death of telemedicine?". Journal of Medical Internet Research. 3 (2): e22. doi:10.2196/jmir.3.2.e22. PMC 1761900free to read. PMID 11720964.  Kummervold, P. E.; Johnsen, J. A. K.; Skrøvseth, S. O.; Wynn, R. (2012). "Using Noninferiority Tests to Evaluate Telemedicine and E-Health Services: Systematic Review". Journal of Medical Internet Research. 14 (5): e132. doi:10.2196/jmir.2169. PMC 3510769free to read. PMID 23022989.  Nicolas, L. (2012). "EHealth, reseaux de sante et dossier medical electronique: vers une culture de partage et de confiance" [EHealth, health networks and electronic health record: Towards a culture of sharing and trust]. Revue medicale de Bruxelles (in French). 33 (4): 416–419. PMID 23091950. 
  3. ^ Marcano-Belisario, José S., et al. "Tablet computers for implementing NICE antenatal mental health guidelines: protocol of a feasibility study." BMJ Open 6.1 (2016): e009930.
  4. ^ Doherty, Gavin; Coyle, David; Matthews, Mark (July 2010). "Design and Evaluation Guidelines for Mental Health Technologies". Interacting with Computers. 22 (4): 243–252. doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2010.02.006. 
  5. ^ Anthony, Kate; Nagel, DeeAnna Merz; Goss, Stephen (eds) (2010). The Use of Technology in Mental Health : Applications, Ethics and Practice. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas Publishers. ISBN 978-0-398-07953-6. 
  6. ^ Rizzo, A; Pair, J; Graap, K; Manson, B; McNerney, P.J; Wiederhold, B; Wiederhold, M; Spira, B (2006). "A Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy Application for Iraq War Military Personnel with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: From Training to Toy to Treatment". In Roy. M. (ed.). NATO Advanced Research Workshop on Novel Approaches to the Diagnosis and Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PDF). Washington D.C: IOS Press. pp. 235–250. 
  7. ^ Coyle, D; Matthews, M; Sharry, J; Nisbet, A; Doherty, G (2005). "Personal Investigator A Therapeutic 3D Game for Adolescent Psychotherapy". Journal of Interactive Technology & Smart Education. 2 (2): 73–88. 
  8. ^ Merry, Sally N; K. Stasiak (2012-04-19). "The effectiveness of SPARX, a computerised self help intervention for adolescents seeking help for depression: randomised controlled non-inferiority trial". British Medical Journal. 344 (e2598). doi:10.1136/bmj.e2598. 
  9. ^ Marcano-Belisario, José S., et al. "Tablet computers for implementing NICE antenatal mental health guidelines: protocol of a feasibility study." BMJ Open 6.1 (2016): e009930.
  10. ^ Goss, Stephen; Ferns, Joe (2010). "Using Cell/Mobile Phone SMS to Enhance Client Crisis and Peer Support". In Kate Anthony, DeeAnna Merz Nagel and Stephen Goss (eds). The Use of Technology in Mental Health: Applications, Ethics and Practice. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Pub Ltd. pp. 56–67. ISBN 978-0-398-07953-6. 
  11. ^ Haniff, David (2007). "Mental Health Issues and Pervasive Computing". In Devian Ramduny-Ellis and Dorothy Rachovides (eds). BCS-HCI '07 Proceedings of the 21st British HCI Group Annual Conference on People and Computers: HCI...but not as we know it - Volume 2 (PDF). Swindon: British Computer Society. pp. 171–172. ISBN 978-1-902505-95-4. 
  12. ^ Haniff, David. A Serious Game to Help People with Depression, Therapy Inline with Technology (TILT), Issue 9, Jan 2012. 
  13. ^