Five ways technology can help you improve your mental health

man sitting alone with phone

Written by Adam Tweed, Service Development Manager, AbilityNet

October 10 is World Mental Health Day. This blog looks at how making adjustments can improve your mental health.

According to data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) “Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds.” In the UK in 2018, 6,507 deaths by suicide were recorded;11 deaths in every 100,000 and it remains the most common cause of death amongst men aged 20-49.

Research has shown that people with a diagnosed mental health problem have an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviour, but the stigma associated with discussing mental health problems often means many people avoid seeking help resulting in an estimated 36% of mental health conditions remaining undiagnosed.

One in four of us will suffer from mental health issues at some point in our life, according to the World Health Organisation. These mental health problems can be twice as high in people with learning disabilities than others, according to Mencap.

Students with learning disabilities can be an especially vulnerable group, and will also be coping with significant lifestyle adjustments such as living away from home for the first time. According to Time to Change one in 8 young people will suffer from a mental health problem.

Stress at work can also negatively impact our mental health.

While there’s a lot of negative press around about the impact of social media, for example, on mental health, technology can also be a force for good. AbilityNet believes in a digital world that’s accessible to all. We work to help make technology accessible to disabled and older people at home, at work and in higher education. Here are our tips for World Mental Health Day.

1. Apps to help improve mental health

A screen shot of the Stay Alive AppThere are many apps around that can help you in terms of monitoring causes of stress and anxiety, and helping you to improve your mental health. We list five apps for improving mental health. Our list includes an overview of the Stay Alive app a free, nationwide suicide prevention pocket resource, packed full of useful information to help you stay safe. Their vision is that no one has to contemplate suicide alone, the app is designed to be a lifeline for people at risk of suicide.

The Hub of Hope is an app from the Mental Health charity; Chasing the Stigma. It is designed to signpost help for people experiencing mental health issues, poor mental health, or crisis. It uses either your phones location or a postcode search and will provide details of local support groups, charities, and other support providers. It also has a ‘talk now’ option that will connect you with either the Samaritans (phone) or Crisis text line (text)

2. Help for students struggling with mental health issues

Previous studies show that one in four students experience issues with mental health. You may be eligible for a DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance). Our report explores how DSA could help you if you’re struggling with mental health.

DSA can provide a tailored package of technology and non-medical support to help you succeed in your studies. This could include a computer or laptop, or a printer/scanner to save traveling to the library during periods of ill health. You may find it useful to have software or apps to record lectures and seminars to ensure you have taken in all the information.

Find out about four game-changing apps to help students

3. Websites that provide immediate help on World Mental Health Day, and every day

Image from CALM website Test reads World suicide prevent day 2019 the movement against suicideWherever you are, help is available online and there are plenty of websites that can provide support for people suffering from mental health issues. The Royal Family has been key advocates for mental health and has just launched an online resource called Shout for anyone in crisis. Available at giveusashout the service has been piloted for the past year and is “a place to go if you are struggling to cope and you need immediate help. There are over 1,000 volunteers who have already responded to 60,000 conversations.”

Suicide is the biggest killer of young men in the UK. CALM (The Campaign Against Living Miserably) is leading a campaign to raise awareness and also has access to a helpline, which is available 365 days per year. Mind, the Mental Health Charity, also has a tool on its website for people who need immediate help. Need someone to talk to? The Samaritans will take your call 24-hours a day, all year round.

4. Improving Mental Health in the workplace

Image of the ClearTalentsOnDemand toolTime to Change aims to change attitudes to mental health and to reduce stigma. It has a variety of practical advice for employers, and employees. For disabled people, simple workplace adjustments can help improve your workplace physically and mentally. AbilityNet has a variety of tools and services to help on how to make reasonable workplace adjustments for employees and employers.

This includes access to ClearTalentsOnDemand, which can help identify what adjustments might help disabled employees.

We also have a range of factsheets available on our website including how to adjust your workspace if you have RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury), and one about Dyslexia, and technology for example.

5. Chatbots and Voice assistants: talking to tech in crisis

Shows a hand holding a piece of paper. On it are the words 'phone a friend'.

For many people, the notion of talking to another human, sharing a vulnerability or admitting a problem is a barrier in itself and although opinion over AI and chatbots is divided there are a growing number of tools available.

Every day 7 million people in the UK will talk to their voice assistant, according to Deloitte. While it may be a functional interaction, for many it is a lifeline in a lonely world. As a result, the manufacturers and programmers have been forced to recognise that some may choose to reach out to these devices and disclose feelings; tell your Google Home or Alexa that you feel lonely and they will respond (Alexa gives hints and tips; talk to a friend, go for a walk, Google tells you it’s there for you!), tell them you’re going to kill yourself and they will reassure you that you are not alone and give you the contact details of the Samaritans. Voice assistants are predicted to be on 8 billion devices by 2023 and our expectations of what they can do only increases as they keep improving.

Our voice assistants may be becoming unexpected therapists, but there are areas in which AI therapy is being explored in its own right; ‘Ellie’ is an AI therapist developed by the USC Institute for Creative Technologies as part of a project called SimSensei.  ‘She’ is designed to monitor micro-expressions, to respond to facial cues, to perform sympathetic gestures and build rapport.

In a test group of American soldiers who as part of their return from a tour have to fill out a Post Deployment Health Assessment, it was they reported more symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to Ellie than they did on their assessment form, more significantly, they also reported more symptoms to Ellie than they did on an anonymised version of the form.

Supporting someone you think may be suicidal

Rethink Mental Illness have produced the following list of myth-busting information for people who have concerns about someone else and are worried about speaking to them:

  • People might think about suicide for different reasons.
  • If you are worried that someone may be thinking about suicide, talk to them. Ask them about how they are feeling and offer to help.
  • Talking to someone about their suicidal thoughts does not make them more likely to end their life.
  • You can help someone who is feeling suicidal by listening to them without judging them and trying to help them think about other options.
  • You may need to get crisis help from mental health services or the emergency services.
  • Helping someone with suicidal thoughts is likely to have a big impact on you. Find out what support is available to you.
  • If someone does try to end their life, this is not your fault.
  • You can find out more on the Rethink Mental Illness page on ‘Supporting someone with suicidal thoughts

Originally published here.

More thought leadership

Join Digital Leaders

By submitting your contact information, you agree that Digital Leaders may contact you regarding relevant content and events.