Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was growing public mental health concerns at how the ‘always on’ frantic way of living and working, social-media-induced perfectionism and the sheer proliferation of content, information and products, was impacting people’s wellbeing. So much so, in 2019 the WHO included burnout in its 11th edition of International Classification of Diseases.
Now, on top of all that, in the past few months most of us have had our way of living turned on its head. From where we shop, how we work, where we live and who we see, virtually everything has been affected. And every time we get to a new ‘normal’, that seems to change, not to mention the constant fear caused by the still poorly-understood deadly virus lurking around, well, everywhere! It’s unsurprising that experts are warning of a looming mental crisis.
Almost ironically, the very same digital channels that were causing stress and anxiety are those now enabling us to socially engage with others during lockdown, and give us positive ways to de-stress, reflect and communicate. Like with anything in the world, it’s all about moderation and knowing how to make things work for you.
With that in mind, for Mental Health Awareness Week, here are three practical ways to embrace technology, stay connected and boost health and wellbeing.
1. DISCOVER YOUR CALM, REMOTELY
From live-streams on Insta, podcasts and apps, to long-form video, there now exists a myriad of ways to take time out and relax.
The Drive, for example, is a four hour-long slow TV film by Audi and We Are Social, which sooths viewers with an immersive road-trip experience. The zen nature of slow-filming and its calming musical score induces relaxation in an otherwise fast-paced environment. ASMR, as explored in my colleague Joanne Bell’s article Soothing Sounds, is a somewhat more esoteric method of reducing stress, and even increases actual physiological feelings of social connection, through audio-visual stimuli, if you’re lucky enough to experience it. While those longing for the relaxation a spa or eco-trip brings, luxury-chain Six Senses has developed a series of live-streamed tutorials, articles and videos with their team of expert wellness professionals for home-bound mindful enthusiasts, as well as nature-filled experiences such as virtual paragliding, bee-keeping and marine biology.
Find your h(app)y
The destigmatisation of mental health combined with an increasingly proactive, wellbeing-conscious consumer, has seen an uptake in personal meditation, mood and habit-tracking apps. Combining positive psychology, neuroscience and meditation techniques, Happy Not Perfect delivers a range of sessions designed to fit in with busy lifestyles, helping users feel calm and balanced. While Tangerine is on hand to assist with healthy-habit formation and finding a routine, including taking the time to reflect on each day. And NHS endorsed app, Thrive can be used before a stressful situation or on a more-regular basis. Meditation and sleep app, Headspace, has formed creative collaborations with a whole range of brands; from Spotify and Amazon to Vitality and WW. Most recently, partnering with iconic children’s television series Sesame Street to combat child stress and anxiety through animated shorts called Monster Meditations which focus on breathing and sensory activities and the fundamentals of social and emotional learning.
Game on well
Video games are a source of entertainment and relaxation for many, especially young men. Globally, one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents, cited by the WHO, is depression. Cleverly combining gaming with informative de-stigmatisation of this particular mental health concern is Let’s Be Well. The video game was created by 11-year old Luke, whose father died by way of suicide, and uses a character with depression who overcomes obstacles to regain colour, while pop-up messages teach players about the condition.
2. FIND YOUR COMMUNITY, ONLINE
Social distancing can lead to increased feelings of isolation and unease. Seeking out virtual communities and online resources to stay connected and motivated is a powerful source of support.
Netflix and (actually) chill
Netflix original shows have long been praised by audiences and critics alike for their diversity and coming-of-age content. Taking this following, Netflix has teamed up with Instagram to host live Q&A sessions with stars from some of their most notable series and trusted mental health experts from organizations including National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The talks discuss questions and challenges currently faced by young people; covering everything from managing anxiety and sleep difficulty to connection whilst social-distancing and what self-care actually means.
Becoming a new parent is a huge transition in any circumstances, with its own set of unique questions and worries. Add to that the stress of restricted healthcare services and social-distancing, and the complexities become greater and the need for care more acute. New US service Zaya Care offers reassurance and practical help with free online 24/7 chat support, scheduled at-home visits, and virtual coaching classes for women and their partners with certified midwives and doulas. People can also connect with other expectant parents with a similar due date to share experiences and get the latest clinical guidance, insights and baby-relevant COVID-19 information.
In this new era of work, it’s understandable to feel adrift or unsure of which direction to take. Specific to the creative industries, Mastered offers learning experiences and mentorships with an interdisciplinary approach of entrepreneurial business, psychology and communications. While global contentment organisation The School of Life offers a programme of virtual classes where students participate in interactive exercises with one another on an emotional curriculum covering topics such as How To Be Sociable, How To Enjoy Life and How To Find Love.
3. MANAGE YOUR WELLBEING, EXPERTLY
Although digital self-care can most likely be the first port of call, sometimes expert help is needed to address issues of emotional and psychological well-being. According to CB Insights data, funding in mental health businesses has reached a record high. With developments in technologies from teletherapy brain stimulation wearables, virtual reality platforms, data-driven digital phenotyping, chatbots and mental health therapy connection platforms – all enabling more accessible and personalised solutions than ever before.
Lyra Health combines in-person mental health care with 24/7 technology to connect employees to therapists and provide personalised digital therapy programs through its US-based platform. Similarly, in the UK, CBT Clinics offers a psychological health service to patients for both personal healthcare and within the public sector, as well as through corporate and insurance channels. While UK-based Oxford VR offers a clinically validated virtual reality platform to treat mental health patients. And Flow is Europe’s first medically-approved brain stimulation device to treat depression from home.
Different communities often have their own unique and specific mental health needs, particularly so now given COVID-19’s disproportionate impacts on demographic groups. Thankfully, services are available. Online therapy for marginalised and intersectional communities is the focus of Ayana, a US-based therapy app which matches users with licensed professionals sharing their unique traits, values and sensibilities. While Pride Counselling specialises in working with LGBTQ+ individuals. And social-connection platform Wisdo connects groups with similar experiences to share their stories and form supportive networks; from those experiencing chronic pain to motherhood or coming out.
It’s clear that technology is revolutionising the future of mental health; whether that’s giving consumers access to preventative practices like mindfulness and mediation, or giving healthcare providers, therapists and patients better understanding and tools to manage care and treatment from home. It’s very possible that this crisis could be a catalyst for significant behaviour change on both sides of the mental wellbeing equation. The real question is, will those businesses operating in health, wellness and beyond, rise to meet that challenge with innovative care solutions? I can only hope so.
If you are suffering from mental and emotional health concerns, and are seeking help, the first place to start could be your GP or you may wish to find a therapist directly, the BACP and BABCP directories list counsellor and CBT therapists respectively. Alternatively, you may have access to healthcare provider medical insurance, such as BUPA or AXA PPP, privately or through work.