Innovations for “breaking down mental health”

Anyone can develop a mental health illness, however, certain people are more prone to them than others, if your family has a history of mental health disorders, if you have lived a traumatic experience, or if there’s a chemical imbalance in your brain.

Introduction

I have decided to write this article because I feel it’s a very relevant subject, especially during such a time, where Covid-19 spreads such uncertainty. The silver-lining to mental health is that it’s finally becoming more talked about when only a few years ago the subject was very much taboo.

So first, let’s break down the mental health illnesses (pun very much intended). 

Anyone can develop a mental health illness, however, certain people are more prone to them than others, if your family has a history of mental health disorders, if you have lived a traumatic experience, or if there’s a chemical imbalance in your brain. Women are also two times more likely to have one than men. However, men can often be too proud, leading to an overall larger problem of crushing anxiety. 

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or anxious from time to time, in fact, it’s rather normal, the notion of mental health illness or disorder comes into play when those feelings disrupt our ability to function normally and prevent us from interacting with other people. 

When we talk about the inability to function normally, we mean that a person might freeze in circumstances they were previously comfortable with, or that other people find comfortable. It can also wash over you during social situations where at the beginning of a social gathering you were fine, but ten minutes in you feel darkness loom over you and all of a sudden you’re alone. In this day and age, a new threat seems all too present, and it goes by the name of social media. Although we have not come across any real study to say that social media is the cause of more anxiety, or if anxious people are just more drawn to social media, there is a link that exists and we must look more into it. 

Today, anxiety is the most common mental illness, it affects 30% of human beings, and this is frightening. Now that we’ve, somewhat, broken down mental health, let’s look more in-depth into some of our personal stories.

Our stories

(Chris) Having served in the armed forces, worked in the entertainment industry, and the social impact sector, I have seen my fair share of the illness, and have even lost a good friend to it.

(Veronique) I have struggled with minor anxiety since I hit puberty, back then social media took the form of Tumblr, where I was part of a community of young girls who obsessed over One Direction, and depression. Although two seemingly unrelated topics, the girls I would talk to who loved the same group as me, also seemed to have anxiety. Back then we didn’t know what the word anxiety meant, but today, many years later, I view my experience online as poisonous to my mental health. A question I will always have for myself is whether I already had anxiety, or whether being online gave me anxiety. I am testing out this theory right now, but we’ll talk about it later in the article. In 2019, my anxiety reached its peak, leaving me unable to get out of bed or to go out of my room for a couple of days every two weeks. At the same time, I was also obsessed with Instagram, I always needed to have the perfect photo so that my feed looked immaculate, I knew the exact times and days I needed to post a photo to gain the highest engagement rate and if a photo had less than 100 likes I felt like a failure. No one probably even paid attention to my Instagram layout, but I was obsessed with it. I knew I had a problem, but I didn’t realise it had gotten so out of hand until I received the news at the end of October that a highschool friend of mine had committed suicide a few months prior. I was devastated, in part for the loss of a friend I was no longer in touch with, but also for the realisation of how much I had been suffering. Instagram showed me pictures of beautiful people with incredible lives, and Facebook showed me teenagers who had nothing better to do than to rant about how awful their lives were. So for the month of December, I temporarily disabled both accounts. When I came back in January, I realised that safe for a handful of people, no one had even realised I had not been online. So it began, my quest to get better and to figure out how to curb my anxiety once and for all.

Innovations

In this day and age, we have amazing innovations that can really make a difference. The startup world found its answer on the negative trend of the rise of mental diseases within our societies. More and more young entrepreneurs try to tackle the challenge and prove their ideas on the market. 

Whereas the conservative way would be to visit a therapist physically, in times of digitalization the blockade many victims of mental health diseases have to do so can be bypassed. At the moment there are already quite a few online therapists applications on the market. BehaVR is a US-based startup with an idea that hits the spirit of the time superbly. What they offer is a virtual reality experience where they use cognitive, emotional and physiological exercises in order to improve your psychological resilience. Additionally, they have a programme in their portfolio for people suffering from addiction diseases. 

Meeting both goals, lowering costs for treatments and at the same time, more efficient patient care is TELEMYND’s strategy. Their innovation is based on an artificial intelligence platform. With the help of this tool, they reduce the waiting time for patients to get individual plans for their treatment. They created a national network with a variety of experts whom all have access to a cloud-based telemedicine system. Collaborative expertise combined with their AI platform also allows them to reduce costs for all stakeholders on a level that makes a difference. 

Mental health contains a wide spectrum of illnesses and of course goes beyond diseases, too. There are many more things that may not be officially diagnosed as a mental illness but potentially lead to one. If you take loneliness as an example, you may not think of it as a serious mental issue, but for many people, and especially men, it can develop a status that has to be taken seriously. Hence, Evryman made themselves the objective to address the problem. According to them, many men have been taught to subdue their personal emotions. On their website, they mention that three out of four suicides are committed by men and one out of three men feel lonely. They see a coincidence between those two figures. Evryman is B Corporation certified and provides a platform for lonely men to start or find a group where they find companionship in their hobbies and passions. They are on a mission to build mindful strength for men who suffer from severe loneliness. In their groups men have the opportunity to reveal their real emotions, opinions and vulnerability.

Constantly working on your mental health is a recommendation not only for people with problems in this area but for everybody. When it comes to the actual “mental work-out” many people are afraid of going through long sessions with a therapist or the confrontation with their hidden emotions. However, keeping your brain fit is important, especially in regards to your stress levels in the long run. Therefore, the German startup Memorado created an app where they offer brain games to stimulate your brain activities in various branches. They have an offer of 20+ games to train logic, concentration, memory and other important brain skills. 

Consisting of a stable social environment including people with the same interests is a key driver for your emotional well-being. But, especially in adult life, more and more people find it challenging to find company for their hobbies. With the object of closing the bridge, Panion offers in their app a matchmaking algorithm to connect people based on their passions. It is their mission to create strong connections between people who might never have met without them. 

Lastly, we come to an innovation some people may not fully understand in the beginning as it is a bit too far from what they understand as mental health care. Due to cases of strong depression in their own families, the co-founders of COMPASS have been looking at treatment methods for a while. What they came up with, in the end, is a solution for treatment-resistant depression patients based on psilocybin. The active substance of magic mushrooms has proven its potential to be a real treatment alternative in many types of research over the last few years. Although many people associate that treatment with drug abuse, there’s more than that what reaches the eye. During the treatment phase, it is not about patients having the flashiest experiences due to high doses but rather small micro-dosing instead. There may not be any product on the market yet as the company is still in the research and development phase. However, experts see massive potential for psilocybin treatments as a substantial option for patients in the near future. 

In a nutshell, there are many different innovations on the market already and more to come in the interest of facing mental health issues. Some of them are more advanced than others, still the full potential is yet to be discovered. 

Now let’s get back to our stories and how the big social media players can use their tools to reduce mental stress. Today, Instagram is one of the most used social media applications, with over 1 billion users that log in every month. This platform has incredible potential for businesses but gave rise to a powerful group of people: influencers. We won’t talk about the negative aspects of Instagram, but rather one thing they are changing.

(Veronique) In April of 2019, the social media giant started hiding the number of likes for Canadian users, several more countries followed, among which Australia was one of them. I noticed the change when I was home in July, I was outraged, how was I going to compare myself to others now? But then I felt liberated, I no longer needed to post things I knew would get likes because likes were no longer the first thing that jumped out at me. The second change happened earlier this year in 2020, they swapped the position of the engagement notifications and direct messages, changing the focus to sharing with friends not getting likes. As of right now, only seven countries in the world don’t see the number of likes anymore: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Brazil, Japan, and Italy. However, now I am living in Portugal, and I have regained access to the number of likes people have. This small change of hiding likes tremendously improved my mental health, so all I can ask is, Instagram? When are you bringing this change to the rest of the world? 

Habits to inaugurate in your day-to-day life

(Veronique) What I realised after my social media purge of 3 weeks was that first I had still been thinking about Instagram the whole time, and second that I knew I’d eventually be back. So, I decided that I’d need a more drastic approach. On the 12th of March, I posted a message on Facebook, I was permanently deleting my account, and temporarily deactivating my Instagram account for the rest of the year. I sent out many messages to friends I hadn’t spoken to in months, and some even, in years, all in the aim of maintaining contact with the most important people in my life. I realised that there were maybe fifty people I wanted to keep talking to out of the 800 Facebook friends I had accumulated over the years. Such a drastic step in this era seems over the top, and it probably is, however, as I have learnt, my mental health is more important than the opinions of 700 people I care very little for. Of course, even I had a limit and I could not bring myself to permanently delete my Instagram, however, I have pledged to myself and now to LinkedIn, that I will not activate it for the rest of the year, accountability is amazing. This social media absence came with perfect timing because the day I got rid of my account is the day my Instagram started showing the number of likes again, thanks, Instagram.

Apart from technologies, innovations or classic therapy sessions, there is a bunch of day-to-day activities to be included in your routine to improve your mental health.

Unfortunately in many cases, doctors just give pills, but this is not a natural remedy and can get you addicted and more depressed, whereas there are a couple of relatively simple things you can include in your routine that will make your emotional well-being better. In fact, it has been scientifically proven that speaking or writing down things you are grateful for is beneficial. For instance, at Green Innovation Group we introduced a daily routine during our lunch where we all sit together at a table where we tell each other in three rounds what we are grateful for that day. Furthermore, there is meditation: giving yourself the time to simply sit down and focus on your breath can increase your happiness. Taking cold showers is another easy-to-implement tool for better psychological well-being. Increased focus on balanced sleeping patterns and just as important as the rest: a balanced, nutritious diet are essential factors that can help create stability and improve mental health.Of course, it may all seem a bit much in the beginning but implementing these strategies gently is already a big step! For myself personally, exercise, mindfulness and hobbies are enough to keep me strong, I honestly believe that simply taking a walk, surrounding yourself by nature or doing a simple 20-minute exercise routine is enough to keep the demons away. Simply talking to a close friend or relative can help, as well. However this is not enough for some, but there are many options that can really help, the great heavyweight champion of the world Tyson Fury says: “Depression doesn’t mean that you’re a weak person or a bad person; it’s an ailment that some of us have to face up to. If I can do it, anybody can.”

Conclusions

Mental health illnesses are a serious dilemma, and today with Covid-19 keeping us locked inside, we might struggle to stay positive and to stay in the right mindset. Thanks to countless online innovations, however, we can fight to keep our mental health in check by checking those links out, as well as implementing small things that give us a stable lifestyle. After all, stability is essential when you are suffering.

(Co-written by Christopher Storey, Veronique Wong Kai In and Jonas Kufky)

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