The role of technology in our daily lives continues to grow with each passing year.  Advancements in the realms of smartphone and voice technology is making us ever more reliant on the dynamic relationship between humans and our digital assistants.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, however, in the sense that advances in technology extend far beyond our personal sphere; our vehicles are increasingly becoming connected in the world, robot and drone usage is going to accelerate immensely and digital applications of science is growing in the medical and mental health community.

In light of these changes in our society, many often take a skeptical view on how this technology can improve our daily lives. There are two sides to every coin, and there have been various studies that highlight some of the dangers or negative effects that can come from this merging of the two. However, technology has continued to show its worth, especially in the mental health industry, as well as various medical aspects ranging from diagnoses to assisting in surgeries. As we continue to move forward in the 21st century, one would imagine that the possibilities can only increase; we should think of this as a good thing.

When it comes to the application of technologies in relation to mental and behavioral health care in our country, there is a general consensus among practitioners that the next steps to unlocking the mysteries of the mind will intertwine with these new discoveries. Artificial Intelligence is set to play a very big role in helping to detect risks for developing mental health issues, as well as assisting therapists in patient’s recovery and helping to enhance each and every patient’s personal needs.  The overall outcome for the blending of AI and current and future doctors, therapists and specialists is to help make detection and recovery far more efficient.

When it comes to interactions with individuals suffering from mental health or extreme behavioral issues and their phones, there is an increasing trend among phone users; Pew Research has reported that up to 62% of smartphone users look up information regarding health conditions. While it is not known what percentage of individuals are looking up various mental health issues such as depression symptoms, there is enough information for medical professionals and search providers to realize that men and women are going to their phones for help.  Voice search is the next big movement that will be taking place in the next few years, and it will be important that smartphone companies continue developing better assistant technology on their end (i.e. Cortana and Siri), as well as search engines such as Google continue to improve their search results for individuals trying to find particular answers to their questions.

Search engine results should never become a direct replacement for a medical professional or mental health professional, but it will play a key role in helping to improve one’s knowledge about a particular behavioral or mental health symptoms. For example, an individual who is feeling suicidal may speak to their phone; a question would be posed to an interface such as Siri, and he or she may ask for information about symptoms for someone who feels suicidal. Other information will be available, such as the nearest mental health facility in relation to their vicinity.

So here we see some of the benefits of how technology can help with mental health issues currently, as well as what we can start to look forward to in the future; but what about some of the dangers?

There are various studies that have been completed with conflicting data at times. There is, however, a general consensus that too much time spent in action with various technology can often bring forth various mental health issues.  Heavy social media use has contributed significantly to the increase of depression cases among users. A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that participants who would check on their social media on a regular basis throughout the week had a 2.7 times greater chance of developing depression symptoms. One such proposal based on the study that was conducted is that the use of social media is causing a dramatic increase in “internet addiction”, which is being potentially labelled as a psychiatric condition that is closely associated with depression.

There will undoubtedly be men and women who are more susceptible to mental health conditions than others, which is an important factor to consider when we look at the melding of technology with users. Continual research is needed to help refine the efforts of those in the mental health arena to reach individuals that are susceptible to those in need, especially as we continue to aggressively move in a direction where digital interaction is undoubtedly the wave of the future. It would not be a strange thought to imagine having conversations with the central computer of a home in the future, using voice commands to change room temperature, engage in other activities and to help plan your day.

Altogether, despite the sometimes inherent risks of increased mental health issues in certain individuals, we will continue to see a strong movement in the pairing of technology with behavioral and mental health facilities and professionals. As we continue to move forward into the future, we will undoubtedly continue to make great strides in understanding the human brain, thought patterns, emotions and the roles that our everyday interactions have on our psyche. The hope and strong belief is that this technology will continue to help us increase the accuracy of diagnoses, help implement better changes in treatment plans and to help provide an overall improvement on the treatment of mental health issues in our country.