If you’re at all familiar with the ‘spinning wheel of death’, mocking your vain attempt to salvage seven hours of lost work from your laptop, you’ll probably take issue with the idea that technology could be good for mental wellbeing. The smartphone indeed has brought in its wake distraction, sleep deprivation and even addiction.
Yet maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. The problem, after all, isn’t really with the technology itself but how we use it. Used the right way, tech could actually help.
‘Technology plays an important role in helping to provide support to people experiencing mental health issues. For a start, it’s instantly accessible to anyone and tends to be free or inexpensive,’ says Barbara Harvey, mental health executive sponsor at Accenture.
Many apps, chat lines and services are available at any time of the day or night, she adds, while ‘for people who find it difficult to talk about mental health, the ability to open up anonymously is a huge benefit and can represent an important step on the path to getting help.’
Accenture gave MT a glimpse of one of several internal mental health training sessions it conducted around Mental Health Awareness Week. In this case it was focused on some examples of techs that can help in the workplace. Here’s what we found.
There’s a reason all those commuters have their eyes closed when you know full well they’re awake. Mindfulness, which is all about being in the now, is a great way to relieve stress. PauseAble founder Peng Cheng discovered it during six months off work for depression and stress. Finding it a great help, he approached designers ustwo and created Pause.
This calming app (£1.99) is all about moving your finger very slowly across a screen, as you listen to relaxing music, growing circles as you go along. There are also free apps like Headspace, which offer guided meditation to improve your mental state.
Apps can also help with mental wellbeing by monitoring patterns and motivating you to progress towards your goals. Bupa Boost, for instance, lets you set targets for wellness, nutrition, fitness and relaxation, while encouraging social support from colleagues or friends (likes, comments etc). Sleepio, meanwhile, is all about helping you get that solid night’s kip, through breathing exercises and heart rate monitoring, which allows you to see when you’re most stressed and why, so you can do something about it.
Among the most interesting solutions was Ainxiety, an immersive VR chatbot Accenture is in the process of developing, that asks you questions and then sets you appropriate tasks. For instance, if you’re angry you have to/get to smash virtual objects, whereas if you’re stressed you’re taken to a VR beach to chill. You can imagine a day when other VR programmes are used to put you in realistic situations that you find induce stress (eg an interview), to help desensitise you in a safe environment.
So tech could be useful in helping people manage their mental health and wellbeing, but no matter how advanced it gets, you will of course never be able to just plug it in and just wait for mental health problems to disappear.
They are far too complicated for that, and frankly the environment and culture at work are likely to be more significant factors than the presence or absence of technology. After all, guided meditation on your phone could well be fantastic, but if you’re judged and berated for taking a ten minute break to do it, it’s not going to be much help.