Bay Post-Moruya Examiner

Stepping stone to support: How to choose a digital mental health service

With a computer that we now carry everyone we go it means digital mental health support is never far away. Picture Shutterstock
With a computer that we now carry everyone we go it means digital mental health support is never far away. Picture Shutterstock

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The ramifications of the age of technology and what it's done to/for humanity will vary greatly depending on who you ask. Younger generations raised in its apex will likely regard it as just another fact of life, as normal and necessary as breathing. Other people may present a more ornery audience, defaming modern technology as a mind-numbing indulgence and a social murderer.

The fact is, however, that modern technology has opened up the world to us. The wealth of all the world's knowledge rests at our fingertips, our phones holding all the sophistication and complexity of a computer in our pocket. For example, the availability of mental health courses online means that more people have access to education about mental illness than ever, and the freedom of information means that people are educating themselves about the impact of mental health more than ever.

Yet there is a frequently overlooked aspect of modern technology on mental health: digital mental health services. These online and virtual tools go a long way to supporting many people with the daily struggles they go through with their mental illness. Today, we're going to take a look at what these services are, and how you can find the one that will assist your mental health.

What is a digital mental health service?

When we talk about a "digital mental health service," what we mean is any form of technological innovation designed to assist those who struggle with mental illness. This can take many forms, including phone games or mobile applications that help people with depression remind themselves of positive things; or people with ADHD address executive dysfunction.

However, digital mental health services encompass much more than just apps that manage symptoms. These services can also encompass crisis lines, as well as diagnostic tools, resources for specialist demographics, and methods of support, therapy, and information delivery.

In an age where everyone is essentially carrying a computer everywhere they go, the importance of these tools cannot be understated. Mental illness goes with you everywhere you go - now we have support systems that do as well. Imagine a world where there are constantly daggers flying at you, and then one day you're handed a portable shield.

The thing is, not all mental health services are relevant to all people. There is a process around choosing one of these tools and making sure you're getting the best option for your specific issue. While we can't tell you all the digital mental health tools that exist, we can provide a short guide on how to choose the best one for you.

Understanding your mental health

It may come as no surprise that to receive effective treatment for any ailment, you first need to know what that ailment is; and although not all mental maladies are chronic. Something a lot of people with mental illnesses hear is, "Don't we all experience [insert symptom] from time to time?". While incredibly annoying, people who say this aren't wrong. However, the question answers itself.

When someone dies, it's a sad event, and it's only natural to be depressed. However, someone with a depressive disorder has a brain that for one reason or another, doesn't regulate the neurochemicals that cause happiness and the ones that create sadness.

As a result, the brain of a person with depression differs physically from the brain of a person without depression. This is why people with a depressive disorder can have what looks like a "good" life, but still experience crippling sadness, fatigue, sensory issues, low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, and low energy. In other words, it's not from time to time for someone with depression, it is a constant.

If you feel like your brain is controlling things in a way that is detrimental to your quality of life the first thing to do is to see a good GP. Take a list of symptoms so they can see that you're serious about it, as well as an idea of what you're looking for "diagnosis, treatment plan, therapy, medication, etc."

Your GP will be able to give you a good idea of what you may be living with, as well as some research resources. However, they will also be able to provide you with referrals to specialists who will be able to more accurately diagnose/treat you.

Although this process can take several months, even getting the ball rolling is a huge step, and the doctor's initial impressions, as well as whatever you learn about yourself while researching/quantifying your symptoms, will provide a great starting point for the next step.

Seeing what's out there

Like anything new, engaging with digital mental health services for the first time will require research. However, you don't need a diagnosis to use these services, all you need is to understand the symptoms you have and how they affect your life. Your symptoms may put you into any number of mental health conditions, after that it simply comes down to searching what digital resources are out there for any one of them.

After you've found a few viable choices, check out the reviews and community opinions about them, and research their features. Once you've found something that looks like it would suit your needs, download it, try it for a few days and evaluate its impact on your life. If minimal, try another one. If it's created a large positive impact, then keep going!

Service, not support

While these tools can be incredibly helpful, depending on what condition you have, the intensity of their impact on your life, and the quality of the app, it's important to remember that these are just tools. Although useful, they won't get the job done. A hammer is perfect for nailing pieces of wood together but you wouldn't expect it to build a whole house, would you?

Similarly, mental illness cannot be cured. While these digital support services are great hammers, none of them can build a house (enhanced quality of life/alleviated symptoms) without other solutions in concurrent use. Aside from therapy and medication, mental illness requires lifestyle strategies and habits to be addressed holistically.

If you or someone you care about has a mental illness, there is support available, and there is no need to live in the grip of mental illness forever.