According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year. California is one of the first states stepping up to face the crisis head on – with a little help from Silicon Valley. In collaboration with companies Mindstrong and 7 Cups, California state and county mental health officials are testing the possibility of a smartphone app that would allow people to receive care through the state’s public mental health system.

During the trial phase, Mindstrong installed a keyboard onto the smartphones of participants that allowed the app to constantly track their screen activity. The company’s learning algorithm then determined what would be considered “normal” activity after collecting a week’s worth of data. When the algorithm detected multiple instances of divergent behavior, a message, characterized as a “fire alarm”, was sent to the user. According to the company, it takes about a day to identify such a disruption.

“People with borderline personality disorder have a very difficult time identifying when distress is very high,” said Lynn McFarr, director of the cognitive and dialectical behavior therapy clinic at Harbour U.C.L.A. Medical Center “If we can show them, in this biofeedback fashion, that they went off the rails yesterday, say, after they got into a fight with a co-worker, then they’d be able to anticipate that emotion and target it with the skills they’ve learned.”

Why This Matters –

The potential for digital technology to revolutionize the way we treat mental health disorders is massive. And, as the number of users with access to smartphones and digital assistants continues to grow, the possibility of care right at your fingertips is a huge opportunity for organizations and health tech startups looking to make a difference. But despite a crowded market, with over 10,000 apps promising to provide some form of relief to the most pressing psychological symptoms, there are still kinks to be worked out in the implementation of such programs.

“We need to understand both the cool and the creepy of tech,” said Keris Myrick, chief of peer services for Los Angeles County.

As organizations look to come together to bridge the gap between health and technology to create innovative solutions, privacy and data monitoring will continue to be at the forefront of potential concerns. Some users may feel that the tradeoff of having your every waking moment monitored in order to access more convenient care is worth the risk, but others are hesitant of the idea. Before we start to see a truly effective application of a digital mental health program, tech startups will most likely be forced to identify the right balance between the wealth of intimate data they need and the privacy users want.

About the Author:

Khye Tucker is an Innovation Strategist in Columbus, OH. With a passion for writing and a background in communications, Khye strives to bring brand stories to life through a fresh perspective, innovative thinking and creative storytelling.