Using wearables to treat depression
I recently had a coveted job interview where I was asked about my interest in working with wearables. Truthfully I hadn’t even thought about this space before so my answer was ambiguous but peppered with optimism and willingness to discover interest in the space. Since the interview ended I’ve been trying to personally unearth what interest I would have in wearables and began pondering the potential of these devices in helping treat depression.
For some brief background — my previous career was rooted in mental health where I worked as a behavior specialist with patients suffering from anxiety, OCD and depression. When it comes to treating these debilitating conditions the number 1 treatment is behaviorally based. The science shows that in order to alleviate the depressive symptoms the act of “fake it till you make it” is actually some of the best medicine.
Behavioral Activation is the idea that if you can, incrementally, build up your ability to engage in daily habits that you feel unable to due to the depression, over time these acts will be easier and build up the reward center in the brain which will help reduce the avoidance previously brought on by depression. Now there is much more to actual depression treatment than simply walking outside every day for 5 minutes, but Behavioral Activation plays a huge role, and it’s often very challenging to maintain.
My interest in this space began with exploring the question: How might we help increase a patient's ability to adhere to their behavioral activation schedule with the use of wearables?
Wearables — helping keep teens on track
13.1 years old is the average age of those suffering from the highest rates of depression. I’m not sure if you’ve worked with or lived with teens, but getting them to do anything, with or without depression, is a challenge. Much of my time working in the adolescent unit was spent creating behavior activation plans for teens and then meeting with them the following day to problems solve obstacles that interfered with them following their schedule. Many patients were great about doing the work in clinic but that time spent alone at home often derailed them from following through.
Here’s where wearables can come into play.
Imagine if you will, a way to sync users behavior plans and set schedules to a wearable device that provides notifications to help remind them to engage in the activities crucial to their treatment. The integration of wearables into the mental health treatment space would benefit both providers and patients — as an eco friendly specialist it killed me to write out daily schedules on paper that I suspected would be tossed into their backpack never to be seen again. Having a wearable device that provides alerts to help keep you on track with your assigned activations would reduce waste, provide discrete ways to stay on top of therapy homework, provide passive reminders and give teens more control in their treatment.