Putting Our Heads Together for Solutions for Mental Health

Co-authored by Manik Sachdeva, TokBox Developer Evangelist.

When we talk about health, it’s often physical health which is at the forefront of our plans. However, mental health is equally important, but often takes a back seat. It’s perhaps not surprising: mental health is not well understood by the general public. Unfortunately it can come with a big dose of stigma attached as a result.

To top it off, it can be difficult to find a professional to help overcome challenges. Even when you do have access to a qualified clinician, the cost can be prohibitive.

A major health issue

So how much of an issue is mental health really? Well, according to the charity MIND, 1 in 4 adults in the UK will experience a mental health issue in a year, while research shows that mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide.

There is also an increasing focus on the role that technology plays in causing or exacerbating mental health issues. Many of us will be familiar with the feeling of stress from always being available via phone or email.

Some recent research by MIT shows a connection between smartphone and social media use and mental health issues, such as depression, in young people. This area of study is relatively new. We still have a lot to learn about how one thing affects the other but it certainly seems that our increasing reliance on tech is detrimental to our mental health.

Can tech help solve the problem?

But the tech world is famous for focusing on a problem until a solution is found. So could there also be a role for technology in ensuring that people with mental illness are able to access the services they need and get better?

The organizers of the Hack Mental Health hackathon certainly think so. This event brought together mental health professionals, technology providers and people with first hand experience of mental illness to help drive innovation in the mental health space. It was an intensive weekend of putting heads together to find solutions for those affected by mental health issues. TokBox attended as a sponsor to support the efforts of the hackers.  

Removing barriers to accessing help

Increasingly, we see live video being used to deliver all kinds of medical services. This includes primary care consultations, second opinions and specialist referrals. Our live video survey shows that far from being a niche technology reserved to a few specialist providers, telehealth applications with live video are offered widely and well received by patients.

In fact, 60% of our survey respondents said that they have or would be likely to use live video chat to talk to a doctor about a non-emergency condition. One of the reasons that live video has caught on so quickly in healthcare is that it offers a convenient and cost-efficient way to deliver care.

According to research carried out by One Medical group, the biggest obstacle to seeking help from a clinical professional for mental health issues is cost. So if live video can really begin to break down those cost barriers, it could have a big impact on improving access for patients.

Learning from each other

PeerLearn winners of TokBox API prize

With help from our very own developer evangelist, Manik Sachdeva, several teams at the hackathon decided to try out the TokBox API. We know from customers such as InTheRooms that live video can work really well for hosting therapy sessions, and that group sessions are a common way to approach treatment.

So we really like the solution which PeerLearn came up with using our API. Their solution connects two users over video to practice mental health exercises. This could be a short meditation or an exercise in assertiveness. The PeerLearn team used the OpenTok-React library which allows developers to use JSX components with the OpenTok API. They also deployed a server that used the OpenTok Node SDK to power their dynamic room and session generation.

Jesse from the team has written a great post about his experience of the event and what made it different to other hackathons.

For more information on our server SDKs or client libraries, please visit our developer center: https://tokbox.com/developer