Mental Health: There’s An App For That

It’s not easy reading, but it’s essential reading.

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By Jennifer Allore

Last month my friend lost one of his students to suicide in Woodstock, a southwestern Ontario town of 38,000. It was the 5th suicide in the past four months among teens, along with 36 suicide attempts in and around Woodstock.

Readers in Canada may also have been growing aware of the spiraling child and youth suicide crisis in Attawapiskat, a First Nations community in northern Ontario.

Although these two communities may have different challenges and causes of their teen suicide crises, they are certainly not anomalies. In general, there is growing concern about the mental health of our youth in Canada and beyond, and there are large gaps in the health care system to address mental health and distress in young people.

Technology for Mental Health

Those interested in education and technology may be inspired to ponder on the possibilities of how technology could help. Dr. Joanna Henderson from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto gives some advice about leveraging technology to improve the service delivery:

  • Use smartphones to text for appointments rather than calling
  • Utilize YouTube and other social media to deliver announcements and workshops

In fact, there are free online courses for students like on Udemy or Open Learning World, as well as for educators. And yes… there are smartphone apps to address mental health:

  • Optimism – an app that lets you track your moods, feelings, and trigger patterns, and provides coping strategies.
  • Code Blue (not yet launched) – a free mobile support group app that offers immediate text, phone, or in-person support for those in crisis.
  • SAM (Self-help for Anxiety Management) – a free app that uses self-help methods to learn how to manage anxiety.

Although there are growing numbers of apps related to mental health, the research is lagging behind the technology. Only now are researchers studying the effects of such apps and technology and if they play a beneficial or supporting role in mental well-being.

But What About the Results?

Initial results on how technology is used for mental health purposes are still unclear, and some are not promising. One study published last month found that smartphone assistants like Siri do not register voice emotion and although appropriate advice might be given during times of crisis (“Call emergency services”), the voice assistants are incapable of offering empathetic responses.

Despite Siri and her counterparts failing at providing assistance to those with mental health needs, there are still myriad of possibilities for schools and boards to implement both human and technology-based health and well-being programs to educate, help, and continue to break down stigmas.  As students are in the care of schools for 25-30% of each weekday, this trumps Smartboards, coding, and a flipped classroom initiative. These are our daughters and sons. Let’s help keep them safe.

Dedicated to the memory of my friend, Tim Bateman, 1973-2012.

Resources

Crisis Centres across Canada

What are the Warning Signs?

Suicide and Youth – CAMH

Featured Image from Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC

Author: Jennifer Allore

Jennifer Allore is a Master of Education student at UOIT focusing on education and digital technologies. She is an adult educator with over a decade of experience specializing in English language education.

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