Millions of people are affected by mental health issues every year. In the US, one out of five adults experience mental illness. Besides the human impact, this leads to tremendous costs in lost productivity.
With the advent of wearable devices such as smart watches, smart ear pads, sleep monitoring devices, and Augmented Reality (AR) glasses, new possibilities open up for health and wellness applications. Moreover, smartphone apps such as headspace, calm, runtastic, etc. have shown that technology may help improve people’s life and wellbeing. At the same time, progress has been shown in the development made in Machine Learning (ML) and AR to enable the interaction between the user and virtual characters in an immersive environment.
Ear-worn devices are said to be the future Augmented Reality
Still, AR and VR glasses haven’t managed to become mainstream. However, ear-worn devices are said to be the future Augmented Reality and are one of the current trends in consumer tech. The reason for this is that ear-worn devices allow for a lot of possibilities, such as selective noise cancelling, real-time translations, voice analysis, measuring bio signals such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory patterns, and even gait analysis. Moreover, they are more socially compatible than AR glasses as they are seen as common. Also, even medical devices such as hearing aids are becoming indistinguishable from regular headphones on a form factor, which makes impaired users look less impaired.
One of the greatest advantages of ear-worn devices is that it is possible to communicate with the user without anyone noticing. The device could alert the user in case of unusual heart rate, wrong breathing pattern, bad posture, etc. or just tell her to relax while addressing her with recomforting words.
Technology Offers New Possibilities
In the wake of this technological progress, a lot of possibilities open up for mental health applications that were not possible even 2 years ago. In combination with smartwatches and smartphones, bio signals of an individual can be tracked around the clock and during consultation- and measurement-sessions in dedicated health- and wellness-apps. As a consequence, the collected data leads to a much more accurate understanding of the individual and to much more targeted actions such as recommendations, custom health sessions, etc. For example, if a relaxation app measures the heart rate and respiration, it would be possible to determine the triggers that result in deeper relaxation on an individual and collective level. Therefore, the relaxation session could be optimized and individualized for best effects on the user.
Detecting anxiety attacks and intervening right when they are detected…
In combination with an omnipresent virtual assistant that communicates with the user via smartphone and earbuds, it would be possible to support and empower the user during the day and in difficult situations. Detecting anxiety attacks and intervening right when they are detected with calming music and recomforting words. Measuring heart rate and respiratory frequency in fitness apps could make each session much more efficient and could prevent from under- or over-training much more effectively.
Taking these thoughts further, one could imagine a virtual buddy that is always there with real-time support, recomfort, and advice in difficult situations — a very personal Siri. The user can interact with the buddy via the smartphone. The camera would analyze the user’s facial expressions and voice pitch in order to find out more about the user’s mental state. Once AR finds its way to the public, the buddy would be a virtual person interacting with the user and be ‘almost’ physically present.
Privacy Is Crucial
As a consequence of the above, the question of privacy needs special attention. The data that is collected would need to be private by default, not shared with any platform provider such as Apple, Facebook, Google, etc. or any insurance company, but shareable if the user decides to contribute to scientific research or a greater purpose such as getting insights on how to prevent mental illness.
While technology can not (yet) substitute real human interaction and care, it can be a driver to help millions of people alleviate their pain and prevent from more severe advances of the illness through early detection.
If you as a reader are interested in starting a discussion around this topic or you have ideas on how to make use of current technologies to help humans to progress and prevent or alert for mental illnesses, feel free to contact me….
At Earkick we are building a free anxiety tracker to follow our great mission in order to make the wold a less anxious place.