Together with psychologist Louise Bergøe, we discuss the potential in using technology to help people with mental health issues. We look at how technology can break down barriers for people to find help, the importance of people feeling empowered and hopeful that they can self-manage, and when/how to be aware of and react to symptoms.
Louise Bergøe is a psychologist at the Centre for victims of sexual assault at Holbæk hospital, Denmark. Only a month before the Covid-19 outbreak the centre at Holbæk hospital launched a digital consulting project offering video consultations for rape victims as an alternative to in-person consultations.
The goal was to become more accessible while offering the same quality of support to their clients. This meant minimising obstacles such as cost and time spent on long transportation, taking time off from e.g. work, and for some clients to reduce psychological obstacles for seeking help such as anxiety, fear of leaving the house, or stigma. Now, clients can change the format of their meeting on the fly. They can instantly revert a physical meeting to an online meeting, making sure that they can keep the appointment and feel safe and comfortable to interact in sessions.
“All the enrolled clients feel the online format works equally well as had they been in a physical meeting, and they would definitely choose this as an option“, Louise Bergøe says. “The flexibility in the mix has been well met with. Also, younger working people appreciate that it helps them maintain their everyday activities without much disruption.“
Can technology be a helpful tool for people to sustain their mental wellbeing and help them bounce back at an early stage?
“Yes, I believe technology increases the accessibility of information and tools because getting the courage to seek information or waiting for an expert opinion can be a barrier“, Louise says. “The educational aspect that many technologies provide can raise the levels of self-management and empowerment. This can minimise the stress that people feel if they have mental health challenges like depression or anxiety.”
Louise believes, it is not about people feeling safer or more open when using digital solutions. In her experience, it is more about choosing the format that fits the client, and about technology lowering the barrier to get help by offering convenience and flexibility so that people can maintain their level of functioning while attending to their mental health issues. For instance, she mentions that some people cannot cope with having to take time off to go to therapy.
Whether technology can help people bounce back depends on the solution, Louise thinks. She believes apps that motivate and suggest activities based on individual needs have huge potential. But, she also underlines that potential and outcome is correlated with the quality and validation of the solutions.
“The area of digital solutions for mental health is growing. But it is very important that technology providers take responsibility for delivering quality solutions. People are open for it right now, so we have to ensure high trustworthiness.“
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“If people have ongoing symptoms for long, there is a chance of them feeling helpless, and this is where I see the potential of digital solutions making people understand themselves better and feel empowered to take action and identify which coping strategy works best for them“, Louise replies.
“People experiencing mental health issues are very technology-driven in other areas of their life. Having these technologies can create a safety zone for some in the sense that they feel capable of taking responsibility for whatever they are experiencing.“
How important is it to be aware of symptoms and when should people react to them?
According to WHO, a large portion of the world’s population are distressed and have things keeping them from having a life where they feel in balance.
“Therefore,” Louise says, “it has to become legitimate to address when symptoms are disturbing you to an extent where you cannot function as your normal you. If you are at that stage, it can be very helpful to have support mechanisms and technologies to assess yourself a little bit and try to understand what you are experiencing and why.“
For example, to help people assess their level of wellbeing and stability WHO has developed a small questionnaire that gives guidance and awareness and provides people with a chance to be proactive before symptoms become more than symptoms.
But it is a balance when people should react to symptoms, Louise believes. “Uncomfortable symptoms they come and go, and sometimes they have no significance and they go away after a short time.”