By Katie Brenneman, Writer, Researcher
The convergence of mental health and health IT has become a critical factor in the healthcare industry. Despite a better understanding of mental illness by the public, there is still a significant amount of stigma surrounding this condition. Continuing to address mental health challenges is imperative to society, and advancements in technology are one method that health IT professionals can use to bridge the remaining gap between humanity and the acceptance of mental health conditions. Let’s look at how health IT professionals can emphasize the role of IT in the process of transforming mental health support.
Understanding Mental Health Stigmas
Mental health stigma involves negative beliefs, attitudes, and stereotypes that society has toward people with mental health conditions. This form of prejudice and social discrimination makes it harder for people to talk openly about their experiences and hinders advancements in mental healthcare. This unfair treatment discourages individuals from seeking support. The types of stigma patients often face include:
- Self-stigma is where the person internalizes negative beliefs.
- Public stigma, where misconceptions lead people to see mental illness as a personal weakness or character flaw rather than a legitimate medical condition.
- Social isolation causes individuals to be excluded or avoided by others.
- Discrimination involves discriminatory behavior against people with mental health conditions in education, employment, housing, and relationships.
- Treatment barriers where individuals are discouraged from seeking mental health treatment, leading to inadequate or delayed care.
- Labeling involves people with mental health conditions being defined by and unfairly labeled by their condition.
To break down these stigmas, we need to foster awareness and understanding. That’s where health IT professionals can step in and make a difference by developing platforms that educate the general public and healthcare providers about mental health.
The Role of IT in Mental Health
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increased demand for technological forms of mental health support. Therefore, delivering patient-centered care without stigma through technological means is vital to the well-being and self-care of the over 50 million Americans with mental illness.
IT for Health Care Providers
One method that continues to gain popularity in the healthcare industry is telementoring programs that bring together medical experts and healthcare providers. These professionals present case-based and didactic mental health presentations to healthcare community members. Providers receive updated information about mental health concerns as well as addressing how to speak to patients without unknowingly shaming them or reinforcing societal stigmas.
For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has had success with Project ECHO, particularly with its presentations on behavioral health, anxiety and depression, suicide prevention, and rural mental health care. The AAP also offers live and virtual continuing medical education courses and telehealth modules for any medical professional interested in improving the care of children and teens with mental health concerns.
Breaking Stigmas with Technology
Health IT professionals are also using holistic technology to encourage mental health patients to seek treatment for their conditions. By using tech platforms as a mode of connection, healthcare providers enhance patient accessibility to the mental health care they may not usually seek in person due to social and self-stigma. Here are some key ways that technology is helping healthcare providers and their patients circumvent mental health stigmas:
Smartphone Apps and Chatbots
Smartphone apps are easily accessible and offer support tailored to a person’s mental health condition. Some apps address the symptoms of conditions, such as time management, emotional regulation, and forgetfulness associated with ADHD; others provide ways to improve their well-being through mood tracking, cognitive behavioral therapy, self-help exercises, and relaxation and meditation. From improving your mood to offering clinical support, smartphone apps are a popular means of mental health support.
A chatbot is a computerized system that interacts with and talks with human users, providing a non-judgmental environment that helps people feel more comfortable sharing personal information. Chatbots operate as individualized personal assistants, collect data to share with physicians, and offer interventions and general mental health care advice. A 2021 survey noted in a Journal of Medical Internet Research article found that chatbots effectively reduced the severity of mental health conditions for people from various backgrounds and demographics.
Telehealth normalizes the discussion about and treatment of mental health conditions, thereby reducing the stigmas associated with it. This technology delivers care, including remote monitoring, and storage and forwarding methods. Users can contact their providers through video chat or message and supply their physicians with relevant health data through remote monitoring devices. This process allows patients quick access to medical care without traveling and reduces lengthy appointment waiting times.
Telehealth also gives patients more time to see a doctor online, helping mental health patients who cannot take time off work to drive to an appointment. More transparency is also a benefit of telehealth, as doctors provide patient records online rather than verbally. Overall, digital technology is changing healthcare for the better, as innovations in this field allow patients to keep track of what they’ve discussed with the doctor, have easier access to their records, experience a more individualized approach, and benefit from lower delivery costs on medication.
Through digital phenotyping — the collection of a person’s data outside of clinical settings to determine their mental health and behavior — technology can assist mental health patients in mapping their behaviors and provide insights into users’ mental health. With the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP), predictive analytics may soon identify the likelihood of a person developing a mental health condition or psychosis, such as depression or suicide risk.
The most accessible form of predictive analysis technology is wearable sensor technology. These tools enable continuous access to daily lifestyle data so mental health professionals can measure and track that activity and behaviors. This information is then used by healthcare providers to tailor treatments, therapies, and medications to the patient’s individual needs, improving the treatment outcomes.
You can encourage an innovation culture in your healthcare facility by inspiring colleagues to embrace technology and its current and future impact on mental health patients. Encourage open communication and questions and listen to all employees’ ideas. Integrating a more forward-thinking approach to IT’s role in mental health will advance your facility’s standing and, more importantly, improve the lives of thousands of patients.
Embracing a More Holistic Approach to Mental Health
The intersection of IT health and mental health is where compassion meets innovation. Medical IT professionals can break stigmas and bridge gaps by designing holistic, technological solutions prioritizing awareness and integrating with transformative technologies. Personal care delivered through digital platforms allows IT professionals to contribute to a more inclusive approach to mental health.
By leveraging their experience, IT employees can shape a future where mental health is a natural part of patient care and build a healthier, more connected society.