How has the increased use in technology shaped the role of a psychiatrist and mental health clinicians over the past 20 years?
From mental health apps, machine learning in automated therapy, to even the humble mobile phone allowing access to helplines and other emergency levels of support; technology over the past 20 years has enhanced and interwoven itself into the fabric of the mental health industry.
While undoubtably it has proved beneficial with some respects, there are drawbacks to be found as well. In this article we will be looking both sides of this coin, and how technology has shaped the role of a psychiatrist over the past 20 years.
The Relationship between Psychiatrists, mental health clinicians and Technology
The introduction of new technology will carry with it enhancements that can be taken advantage of by psychiatrists to further enhance their deliver of mental health care. Here are some examples:
AI and smartphone assisted therapy:
Artificial Intelligence is an has always been, on the cutting edge of technology, with many progresses being made in the recent years. Some examples of this include, AI chatbots that are designed to help patients practice CBT techniques to help them if their symptoms feel unmanageable between appointments. Other AI powered apps, such as Ellipsis, can analyse a patient’s voice and speech for warnings signs of emotional distress. Technology likes this won’t replace a human in the role, rather they serve as a tool to enhance and assist the deliverance of mental health care to patients; and give a line to the provider, letting them know when further steps may need to be made.
Prescription video games:
In June of 2020, the FDA approved a video game designed for kids aged 8 to 21 with ADHD. EndeavorRX, as it is known, challenges young patients to focus on multiple tasks at the same time in the game environment. It’s a great way of utilising kids habits in a way to help them make improvements in their mental health.
It’s easy to take for granted the convenience a smartphone offers; and even easier to believe that it is only a recent thing, the idea of a telecommunications device helping in the role of a psychiatrist. However, we can go all the way back to the 2nd of November 1953 for what is arguably the first example of this situation. Widely considered the Samaritans official birthday, this day was when Chad Varah, a vicar and writer-cartoonist, answered the first ever call to a brand new helpline for people contemplating suicide.
What we can take from this, is that despite some problematic issues technology can raise, in terms of screen time, and social media potentially providing unrealistic goals and provoke body dysmorphia; like with any other tool it can also be utilised for good. As the technology that goes into digital health continues to expand, so does our potential to harness these technological capabilities to expand the field of psychiatry.
What this means for Psychiatrists and what sort of new roles and ventures are available
Like many other medical fields, the landscape of Psychiatry is constantly evolving. Until 2019, transgenderism was still labelled a disorder by WHO for example. The developments, positive and negative, of technology in the mental health sphere has opened new avenues and challenges for psychiatrists globally. There are already many examples of individuals who have attempted to tackle these issues.
Chitraj Singh founded MindHug, and utilises emotional artificial intelligence and apps to provide a robust system to provide mental wellbeing for users.
Plumm, formally known as Healingclouds, are a London-based company that cater internationally. They serve as a platform to connect therapists to clients for 1:1 online therapy sessions. Even pre-pandemic, it goes without saying the fewer barriers to entry such as a commute, or the anxiety some may face traveling to the therapist – the better the quality and quantity of psychiatry can be delivered to those who need it the most.
With the effects of Covid, the convenience provided by Plumm is crucial. Technology and digital health are going to become an intrinsic part of psychiatry moving forward.
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