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How mental health is becoming more accepted through the rise in app technology

January 7th, 2019 by Benjamin Howarth

From June 2013 to January 2014, I received a diagnosis in depression and was subsequently re-assessed with bipolar disorder.

It was a scary time for me. Having bipolar disorder means that you can, in drastic circumstances, be “sectioned”—a shorthand term for the section of the Mental Health Act 1983. This, in turn, means you can be detained in hospital and forcefully receive medication—against your will, without legal counsel, and without the rights that any rational due process in any part of the world would call fair and just.

Last year, an Independent Review by the UK Parliament concluded that patients should receive much better treatment and care, and that the use of police cells and police vehicles to detain and transport patients to hospital should end.

If that seems shocking to you, let me reiterate: the police, under the Mental Health Act 1983, have been more involved in the detention and transportation of mental health patients than actual NHS services at the initial point of contact. As a result, having a severe chronic mental health illness almost automatically puts you on the radar of the police.

What a country we live in where this is allowed to happen. With this in mind, I was terrified when my diagnosis arrived.

Despite these concerns, I became more productive at work and my mood swings became less forceful once I started to take my medication. Yes, there were side effects—the drug I was originally prescribed, quetiapine, can cause constipation, the “munchies”, dehydration, ongoing fatigue, and increased neurotic dream activity—and those are just the effects that affected me personally.

However, I’m a freelancer, and I struggled through. With the help of a very accepting client and team at Manchester Airport, I helped them build their new website framework. It would be remiss of me not to thank them for the support they consistently showed me during my contract. They acknowledged that I suffered from a serious, chronic problem that I could never escape from. That I’ll never receive an “oh, you’re better—you can stop taking your medication” diagnosis.

I many attended tech meet-ups around the time I started taking meds, and that’s how my career first got started. A good friend of mine, Pete, happened to catch up with me at one such event and realised that I was “different” on medication. So much so, that at a conference we both attended a month later, he quietly spoke to everybody who knew me and asked them to give me a second chance.

Without medication, I’d made a reputation for myself as being a wildcard. With medication, as Pete told people, I was “different” and “better”.

Receiving your diagnosis is difficult, intimidating, and downright terrifying. Realising that drugs can make you a better person because of the internal wiring of your brain is a godsend.

Finding out that your nearest and dearest agree with the diagnosis, and that you do, indeed, become a better person by taking your medication, is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it’s a huge relief, a curse because you think back to all the times you embarrassed yourself when undiagnosed. And those thoughts haunt you for quite a while.

Enter technology

For years, mental health was swept under the carpet as an embarrassment, something we don’t talk about, and something that is chronically underfunded in both research and treatment. Since the coalition government was in power from 2010 to 2015, a campaign called Time To Change has firmly placed mental health at the front and centre of the national consciousness.

In the age of modern technology, some critics claim that social media apps kill “real connections” and that we’re more isolated than ever, but I fundamentally disagree with that. Here's why.

Modern technology and apps mean I have a therapist available on demand to help me through difficult episodes in my mental state.

Modern technology and apps mean my medication comes to me—wherever I am in the country and whenever I need it.

Modern technology and apps mean that if something goes wrong, I can urgently get a doctor’s appointment that’s taken seriously based on my previous mental health history.

Apps like Echo enable people like myself to function to the best of our abilities without having to leave the house or without requiring a fixed address.

I’ve spent most of 2018 travelling the UK and Europe giving lectures to software developers, and Echo has been amazing for me. It’s enabled me to have my medication whenever I’ve needed it, wherever I’ve been. I’ve not had to rely on paper prescriptions that I'd then have to collect from my local GP surgery and hand in at the nearest pharmacy.

For those who suffer from social anxiety or any number of myriad mental or physical health conditions that prevent them from leaving the house, apps like Echo are a literal lifeline—supplying vital medication in an expedient and reliable fashion.

One in four people will experience a mental health issue every single year—be they your colleagues, friends, or loved ones. According to Echo’s CEO, Stephen Bourke, 36% of their users have mental health conditions, which he told me was his primary motivation to create Echo in the first place.  

As long as apps like Echo, BetterHelp and others continue to help ease those with chronic, mental and/or physical ailments, I will fully endorse the MedTech revolution. 

The idea that society is becoming more fractured due to apps and mobile technology is false. For those of us with complex medical needs, technology has made our lives infinitely easier and has given us voices and abilities that we previously were denied. For that, I can only hope for many more investments in health startups like Echo.

Benjamin can be followed on Twitter via @benjaminhowarth

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