• Ayman Habib and Paras Wadhwa

Disruptive Technology in Mental Health

Image Source: Gerd Altmann


A disruptive technology is an innovation that significantly alters the way that consumers, industries, or businesses operate. Whether it is the meteoric rise of the e-commerce industry that gave every small business an opportunity to sell their product in a global market or the introduction of GPS apps that have made physical maps almost obsolete, these innovations, although few and far between have revolutionized the way we interact with the rest of the world.


One such space that is witnessing a colossal transformation, is the sphere of mental health. Unlike other parts of our anatomy that follow an evidence based diagnosis towards a particular ailment, the treatment of mental illnesses follows a symptom based approach. The disadvantage of such an approach is that it lacks precision in prognosis and diagnosis. This symptom based approach in the field of psychiatry is inefficient because more often than not, patients exhibiting similar symptoms have very different underlying disorders.This form of analysis lacks deeper investigation. BrainSightAI has set out to change just that, by bringing in artificial intelligence, thus enabling greater precision in neurological and psychiatric investigation for accelerated patient outcomes.


There have been recent investigations into computational neuroscience that have driven new approaches to quantitatively identify, investigate, assess and manage the mechanisms of mental disorders.This happens by establishing relationships between behaviour and disorder specific connections at various levels of brain organization, ranging from molecules to cells to circuits. Some of these investigations explore the unique use of relatively new and underutilized technologies like the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).



An fMRI scan

Image Source: toubibe


Functional MRI (fMRI) has always been synonymous to the field of neuroscience. An fMRI shows changes in brain structure and functioning in areas like prefrontal cortex, limbic areas, brainstem structures etc during noninvasive cognitive and behavioral tasks. This facility however, has not been effectively utilised in the field of psychiatry.It can be used to comprehend diverse issues related to neural circuits concerning fear, anxiety disorders, and panic disorders.



Scientists at USC working with Army Veterans

Image Source: Bravemind Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy


Virtual Reality (VR) provides the stimulus to conduct mechanized clinical and experimental psychiatric research. Physicians and surgeons mainly use it as a simulation tool, while in behavioral medicine it is used as an interaction tool. The researchers at the Institute of Creative Technology, University of Southern California, have collaborated with the US Army to create Bravemind-a PTSD treatment system. This program involves repeatedly exposing patients to their traumatic event in a controlled environment, until this event no longer triggers anxiety. The sensory element provided by VR technology, helps PTSD patients get better, faster than simply describing the trauma. In addition, the frequency of relapses decreases. This early project was started with the intention of helping war veterans process and deal with wartime trauma[1].


Similarly, Augmented Reality (AR) systems act as a more affordable and user-friendly tool used in exposure therapy for patients with anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and distraction for patients from pain. Saagara, is a company that has created an AR app which when used in conjunction with their posters or cards, offers their users assistance in exercises that help relieve their stress and improve their sleeping habits [2].



Image Source: Mohamed Hassan


Chatbots are systems that can simulate a conversation with users through a spoken,written or visual medium.This tool has the potential to be useful tools for individuals with mental disorders, especially those who are reluctant to seek mental health advice due to stigmatization[3]. Woebot, is one such system that works towards creating a product powered by artificial intelligence infused with empathy and the expertise of a therapist[4].


The impact of these innovations on patients suffering from mental illnesses cannot be understated, not only does this pave the way for better treatment but also provides a democratic access to these tools, which in turn leads to better health and economic outcomes.With the growing use of disruptive technologies in mental health, it is important to have an ongoing dialogue with clinicians, patients, caregivers and researchers to improve the penetration of these tools for solving the problems that impede the progress of mental well-being.


References:

  1. Bravemind Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy

  2. Saagra Augmented Reality

  3. An overview of the features of chatbots in mental health: A scoping review

  4. Woebot Health

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