Mental Health “Fire Alarms” Tested in California

Digital technology has the potential to transform mental health care. Thousands of apps are on the market with promises to help soothe mental health issues. Smartphones allow for the continuous monitoring of people with mental illness. Now officials in California are looking at a new approach to technology and its use to help those with mental illness.

For the past year, California state and county mental health officials have been working with Mindstrong, a venture co-founded by a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health. These entities have been working together to test new smartphone apps for people receiving care through the state’s mental health system. The apps being tested are already available to the public.

Digital Fire Alarms

Most of the users involved in the testing have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The apps monitor the users’ activity on their phones to determine whether they may be on the verge of a mental health crisis. An alternate keyboard is digitally installed on the phone and monitors the moment-to-moment activity on the phone. People with borderline personality disorder often have trouble determining when they are in crisis. These digital fire alarm apps can indicate when they may be in crisis based on their phone usage. Users can then use the skills they’ve learned to help lessen the crisis or to seek help.

Other apps provide users in distress with trained listeners who will chat with the user by text. The trained listener then judges the severity of the user’s problem and connects them with necessary resources such as a counselor. The app gives a person the opportunity to discuss their issues with another person and potentially obtain the help they need.

Growing Pains

We’re still a long way away from these apps being used on a regular basis to solve mental health crises. Questions about privacy and the effectiveness of the apps still arise. People may not be ready to share their personal mental health information with the companies that provide the apps. Further tests regarding the effectiveness of the apps are still needed.

If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.

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