According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five Americans will suffer from some sort of mental illness each year. While there are new digital tools being developed daily to support those with mental illness, like text-based or online video therapy, data being generated from existing wearables presents a meaningful opportunity to improve mental healthcare.

One of the tools used in dialectic behavior therapy, a cognitive-behavioral treatment that emphasizes individual psychotherapy and group skills training classes to help people learn and use new skills and strategies, is known as the PLEASE acronym, which stands for the following techniques:

  • Treat Physical Illness
  • Balanced Eating
  • Avoid Mood-Altering Drugs
  • Balanced Sleep
  • Get Exercise

These practices are rooted in the idea that it can be difficult to maintain a healthy mind while simultaneously dealing with physical health issues as well. It can be hard to manage symptoms of anxiety, for example, if you’re sleep deprived or haven’t exercised in several days. Often, these symptoms can compound and make it difficult to break the cycle of intense anxiety.

However, tools that enable therapists and psychiatrists to access and analyze a patient’s sleep quality or frequency of exercise, for example, can have a profound impact on care. Currently, most mental health providers rely on self-reported data collected in aggregate during a therapy session, which can be both limited and inaccurate, as a result of dependence on patient recall of their health over extended periods of time.

There are several apps that ask users to rate their mental health quality on a daily basis, but that data often lives exclusively with the individual and within the app. But, with access to aggregated data around exercise, sleep, nutrition, and self- reported data on mental health symptoms, and ideally, all within existing workflows, providers could provide more meaningful care. Instead of opening a session with a generic “How’ve you been?” providers could talk through some of the trends they see in a patient’s data.

One of the challenges many providers face is patients discontinuing care after just a few sessions. By providing visibility into the health data described above, therapists can more easily encourage inactive patients to come back for a return visit if the data show a negative trajectory of symptoms – and maintain patient engagement as a result.

The more relevant information we can give to providers, including patient-generated health data many people are already recording, the higher the quality of care mental healthcare patients will receive.

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