Mind and body: 3 ways IT can help both

'Mental health and physical health need to be put together.'
By Jeff Rowe
09:45 AM
mental health

While the rapid spread of mobile apps and devices has led to innovations in providing targeted physical care, more and more technology is being put to work reaching out to patients struggling with mental illness.

"Health IT is being increasingly recognized as an effective way of reaching people who are really hard to reach," said Theresa Mulvihill, chief operating officer of ORCAS, a health technology company based in Eugene, Ore.
Mulvihill noted that despite the progress society has made in recognizing and treating mental illness, there can still be a stigma attached, which too often makes people reluctant to seek help.

Easy-to-use apps, such as ORCAS' recently released MoodHacker, which is designed to help people suffering from depression recognize and address their condition, are often seen as easier to engage with than an actual person.

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[See also: Aetna's healthy online gaming habit.]

Apps can offer three benefits to both mental health caregivers and patients, Mulvihill said.

  • Personal use. Unlike a doctor, mental health-oriented apps can be called on wherever, whenever. Moreover, Mulvihill said, they're not limited to being used solely for depression situations, but also in cases where a person wants to improve his or her moods on a consistent basis or develop new mental habits.
  • Health coaching. Mulvihill said apps can be used to help users pay more attention to daily health needs by encouraging them to walk more, have fruits and vegetables more readily accessible, or even begin to meditate. "We recommend working with no more than three habits at one time," she noted.
  • Counseling. While IT can be used to assist with what might be considered "every day" or "low grade" problems, Mulvihill said the initial and main focus of ORCAS remains depression. Furthermore, she pointed to the connection between depression and other chronic conditions. "The research shows," she said, "that when depression occurs in conjunction with other chronic health conditions, neither gets treated to the extent that it should."

With the goal of addressing that situation, Mulvihill said, IT is increasingly being used to help with screening patients for depression, and, if necessary, to provide the information and encouragement necessary to get them to seek further help.

To that end, ORCAS is developing a "coaching hub" that will enable patients and health coaches, including mental health counselors, to create online profiles. Once the appropriate therapeutic relationships are arranged for both patient and provider, additional support can be discussed and developed either online, or by email or telephone.

"Mental health and physical health need to be put together," Mulvihill said. Increasingly, the technology is available to do that.

[See also: Psychological sensors to be incorporated in telehealth for service members]

Meditation photo from Shutterstock.com.

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