There’s no denying that 2020 has been a tough year for all of us. Whether or not you have suffered from the Covid virus yourself, or lived through the stress of watching a loved one go through it, the challenges of this year have taken a great toll on our collective mental health.

The lockdown restrictions have prevented us from accessing our vital social support networks of family and friends, whilst remote working has seen a rise in employees who feel isolated and lacking in morale. And at the end of the year, with several dark months still ahead of us (both literally and figuratively speaking), it’s time to pause and identify strategies for supporting our mental health going forward.

Artificial Intelligence In Supporting Mental Health

Developments in AI (Artificial Intelligence) have created a new generation of chatbots and automated telephone handlers, which use advanced Machine Learning in order to be able to make meaningful interactions with us. This technology can already be seen in action with the launch of WoeBot, an AI chatbot using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approaches and Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) techniques to help users with anxiety or depression.

Available via an app, Woebot acts as a virtual mentor, and monitors users’ mental state through their choices of words. It was winner of the Google Play Stand Out WellBeing App award in 2019.

Cloud Computing Could Transform Future Mental Health Care

One of the key advantages of cloud computing is its ability to analyse vast volumes of data. Now, healthcare experts are talking about how this capacity to work with Big Data could be applied to the provision of effective mental health services. By collecting data from a wide range of sources, including social media and treatment centres, the cloud can integrate findings and provide real, tangible benefits to the way that mental health treatment is approached. The insights from this Big Data can be used by psychiatrists in order to improve diagnoses and to determine the most effective treatment programmes.

The Future Of Mental Health Care

With 5G rolling out as we speak, in the next few years this technology is expected to be able to transform the medical world as we know it. Through its capacity for ultra-fast, reliable connections with low latency, remote medical healthcare is predicted to become a new trend. Whilst this is mainly anticipated in terms of practical medical procedures such as remote surgery, perhaps the normalisation of this approach to healthcare will benefit mental health treatment approaches, too.

Some of the main barriers to accessing mental health support include lack of funding for services, and a great disparity of availability according to geographic location. For those who do get a referral, the waiting times can be considerable. Whilst videoconferencing is already used for mental health treatment, perhaps a rise in remote medicine will extend to widespread mental health services, removing geographic barriers for patients, and reducing costs for healthcare providers.

For now, the benefits of tech can be gained through a range of mobile applications. Mindfulness and meditation apps have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and can help to improve vital sleep. The NHS already provides apps devoted to mental health support and your GP is an excellent resource too.

For those who have found themselves stuck indoors due to remote working, exercise is a proven mood booster, as is getting outside into nature. Talking to your employers is important, as they may be able to find ways to support you. Software is now available that offers real-time “break out” rooms to enable colleagues to have virtual water-cooler moments, helping break feelings of isolation. You won’t be alone in finding our current times a struggle.