The Intersection Between Mental Health and Technology

You have probably heard the following phrase used by media, organizations, and governments- “the mental health system is broken”. Many people consider it a market failure due to the fact that the need is identified too late, there is a supply-demand mismatch and a long-standing stigma associated with mental illness. While the stigma has lessened over the years and more Americans have started seeking treatment – there has not been a similar rise in therapists; thus creating a workforce shortage in the mental health professions. 

An average patient with an insurance plan can be left waiting anywhere between one week to a year to see psychiatrists or specialists. These wait times have a significant impact considering that for every one day of wait time, one percent of patients are lost. 

The Stanford Lab for Mental Health Innovation, Brainstorm, brings a Silicon Valley-style solution to the problem by focusing on the intersections between medicine, business, technology, and design to create tech-based products that optimize health. The key to the solution is finding entry points for intervention which serve as the foundations of experiences of mental health such as thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. The lab turns these insights into outcomes by using data to derive meaningful information about the user from both clinical and consumer perspectives. 

Utilizing this intersection allows to protect users from harm such as the spread of misinformation, harmful use of images, and unregulating online communities. Dr. Neha Chaudhary, the Co-Founder and Chief Research Officer of Stanford Brainstorm, best describes the idea as “leveraging everyday tools and bringing mental health related techniques or interventions to consumers”.

This is exemplified by their collaboration with Pinterest, which involves using machine learning techniques to hide content that displays or encourages self-harm. The problem stemmed from users searching for mental health terms and seeing a misinformation overload. The company’s goal was to keep users safe and provide them with evidence-based content and support; which can be achieved through risk assessment and product development. Dr. Gowri Aragram, the Co-Founder, Chief Clinical Officer, and Director of Education of Stanford Brainstorm, spoke about the collaboration – “with Pinterest, we developed an external product that users have access to when searching for mental health related search terms.” When developing such a product, it is important to take into consideration the clinical aspects, the design, and the mission in order to optimize effectiveness, engagement, and scale.

The project expanded to “Pinterest Well-Being”; and the company achieved an 88% reduction of self-injury content by users and is able to remove such content 3 times faster. Now, when phrases related to self-harm are searched, Pinterest provides links to free and confidential support from expert sources. 

It is important to see a trend of social responsibility expanding in the corporate world. By creating products that are both clinically sound and viable in the marketplace, we can work to identify needs early on and align solutions with modern life.