New age innovators are creating wearable devices that are designed to detect and potentially ease common mental health problems such as workplace stress or anxiety. Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting developments.
What are Wearables?
Wearables are electronic devices or computers that are incorporated into accessories and clothing so that they can be comfortably worn by people. Examples of well-known wearables include: Fitbit - the fitness tracking band; and Apple watch - which allows its users to set goals within apps or track their physical activity using built-in sensors, etc.
Wearables for mental health: The underlying technology
Wearables for mental health measure the biophysical markers associated with our cognitive state, including heart rate variability, breathing, blood pressure etc. Once the wearables have our data, they can offer behavioral interventions, such as guided meditations or breathing exercises.
Here are some amazing technologies that make mental health wearables work:
These new technologies will help to identify whether a healthy person is at risk by being able to analyse samplings of thoughts, feelings and general behaviors as they occur in real time.
Some interesting wearables in the space
Spire’s product, Stone is unobtrusively clipped to a person’s pants or bra. The tiny device then continuously monitors respiratory patterns to detect changes in the user’s state of mind. Once it detects a tense state, it reminds the wearer to relax via gentle notifications from a connected app.
Spire’s Health Tag is another wearable - actually a sticker that you can stick on your clothes. It can be placed on the inside of your sports bra or underneath a t-shirt to monitor your activity levels. The tags are waterproof, so they can be washed too. Like Stone, it monitors physiological markers, such as: breathing; heart rate; heart rate variability; and sleep patterns to identify a stressed state. If the user becomes stressed, they receive a notification prompting them to get their breathing in check.
Feel is an emotion sensing wristband that also works as a mental health advisor. It uses physiological markers, such as – skin temperature, heart rate, skin conductance etc. to create an assessment of your mental state. Based on the data collected, real-time cognitive behavioral therapy is provided by a connected app, which helps the user feel less anxious or more focused.
Leaf nature is a wearable made up of white ash wood and hypoallergenic stainless steel. In addition to sleep and activity tracking, Leaf nature uses the data generated by the user’s breathing patterns to provide advice for his/her meditation practice. Worn on your waistband, this wearable works 24/7. It syncs to an app that will run you through guided breathing or meditation exercises; and even gives you a score on stillness and breathing, so you can easily monitor your stress levels and manage them through meditation and breathing techniques.
Wellbe is a wrist wearable that aims to give you insight into whether a stressful meeting or a challenging workout is making you alert, calm, or stressed. It monitors your heart rate and uses a complex algorithm to determine your stress and calmness levels based on location, time and people you meet throughout your day. It also helps you de-stress by offering guided meditations in a companion app.
Using a sensor designed to track respiration and your posture, this wearable can be used for rapid relief from stress and anxiety. This helps the users to breathe and sit in a healthier way to profoundly reduce their daily stress levels. It tracks your diaphragmatic breathing and posture; and gently reminds you when your breathing or posture can be improved.
Today, many innovators are taking interest in designing novel evidence-based apps and gadgets, such as wearables, that could potentially support the diagnosis and management of mental health issues in an unprecedented way.
Challenges are many but a positive change is here
Although wearables have started gaining acceptance, there are a series of hurdles that must be addressed before any kind of revolution gains traction. Issues still exist around the legal requirements and privacy to collect and protect users’ data. There are problems of missing data, reliability issues and subjects neglecting to wear or charge their gadgets. On top of this, the taboo that still remains around talking about mental health presents a challenge to advancement.
However, while the challenges are many, these wearables and other devices represent the beginning of a very positive trend. They indicate that mental health is being taken just as seriously, and treated with just as much care and understanding, as physical health.
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