Embracing technology for a more open mental health conversation
Opinion by Sophie Kirk
Sophie Kirk is the founder of the Healthcare Holistic Group (HHG) which is a specialist mental healthcare consultancy and service provider. HHG helps educate organisations about mental health, as well as provides virtual clinics and help via its Melp app.
We're told that talking about our thoughts and feelings can do wonders for dealing with mental health issues. But what if we don't want to talk about it?
Mental health globally has been getting worse and worse, year on year for well over a decade. And in this time, the methods we have used to try and solve this challenge haven’t changed much. This was a massive part of the problem: different people required different solutions. So, if there are only a couple of options available – usually counselling or medication – then we were never really going to be able to ensure everyone could get the support they needed.
The other challenge was that mental health issues were not visible enough – either due to a lack of awareness, trust in the health service, or many other factors – to promote truly progressive change. After all, like many things in life, being unable to both metaphorically and literally see the issues people were having was a major issue for the experts trained to make a difference.
Since 2019 though, circumstances have changed. With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are facing a very different conversation about mental health. From my experience talking to schools, businesses, and individuals, it seems that our eyes have been opened to the importance of our mental health, both as individuals and collectively as a society. Now, the calls for change are being heard in greater numbers, and at a far greater volume than ever before. But are we ready to truly make a change?
Talking about it isn’t for everyone
For years, we have all been encouraged to talk more about our mental health. And there’s nothing wrong with this approach – ultimately, the more we talk, the more we can start to rid society of outdated stigmas that stop people seeking the help they need.
But is this truly the solution for everyone?
Most likely not. The UK is made up of almost 70 million people, each of whom have their own complexities and preferences that will influence how to best manage their mental health. Offering only limited options then, all of which involve needing to talk about their mental health at some point, will likely alienate those who are not ready or inclined to want to talk about it.
Because of the pandemic, we are ultimately at an inflection point for how our future attitude toward mental health will look. The old ways of holding our emotions in, being embarrassed to even acknowledge any mental health issues we might experience, and demonising those who do have thankfully been replaced with a far kinder, and more open discourse.
But this change in attitude takes time. And as the pandemic also taught us, human beings aren’t great at rapid change. Just as we never expected everyone to be unaffected by lockdowns and swift changes to our basic freedoms, we can’t expect everyone to immediately adopt a more vocal stance around their own mental health.
Instead, we need to expect that the change will be gradual and iterative, with people opening up about their mental health only when they feel comfortable doing so.
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How can technology be the solution?
And this is where technology comes in. Because if technology has taught us anything, it’s that it makes it much easier for people to disclose information about their health. After all, there’s a reason so many health services have their own smartphone apps (at the time of writing, there are now more than 350,000 healthcare apps available to the public).
Technology helps deliver a well-rounded approach to mental health management, rather than a ‘well this worked for me so why shouldn’t it work for you’ attitude. It accounts for the different needs of all of us, including the quieter, more introverted individuals who just want a solution without having a difficult conversation, or those who just aren’t ready to talk yet.
In today’s smartphone-centric age, apps are the first solutions that spring to mind that are making a huge difference in the mental health conversation. But there are so many other technological options that are out there too: chatbots that can signpost you toward support; forums filled to the brim with helpful advice and people wanting to help; countless numbers of resources to help you learn more about your mental health and identify exactly what may or may not help – the list is almost endless.
The exciting thing about this all too is that it will only get better. Technology has rapidly advanced the tools we have to explore mental health, both in terms of their complexity and accuracy, and in the sheer number of options available to us. And with more choice comes more options for all of us to open up and ensure we get the help in the way we need it.
Embracing tech for a brighter future
When creating the Holistic Healthcare Group, and our mental health toolkit app Melp, my vision has always been for everyone to be able to access support in a way that is both right for them and accessible for them. People need options that provide support in not only a very private way but also in a cost-effective and accessible way. Technology, in multiple forms, is letting us do just that, helping us go some way to achieving our vision to provide a well-rounded solution that has something for everyone.
So, let’s embrace technology to understand and accept our mental health, as well as how best we can manage it. Talk or don’t talk, read or listen, help yourself or find a therapist who suits your needs – find what is right for you.