Are you really destined to lay down on your couch with Dr. Alexa? Healthtech and Mindtech trends by Paul Armstrong

November 2019

  Searches related to ‘mental health’ have more than doubled in the last five years. Can mental health technology or ‘mindtech’, save us?

  Google Trend data shows ‘mental health’ searches have more than doubled over the last five years with a sharper uptick in recent years and overall in October – Mental Health Month. The trend isn’t so much a trend as an epidemic, and the workplace is just one area where people want sanctuary. Technology will save us, right? Yes and no.    Let’s talk about the ‘no’. Leadership isn’t to blame, but most aren’t helping by keeping quiet it seems. Recent data from Kantar tells a stark story to leadership – speak up, the people want to hear from you. 62% of employees believe having someone in a leadership role speak openly about mental health would make them feel more comfortable talking about it themselves. So the advice is clear: Be open to encourage open. Keep it bottled up and expect some high HR costs to roll your way.   Now the technology; from apps like Headspace (meditation) or Spill (therapy) to online courses like BetterHelp, mental health is booming in the tech world.  Google and Apple are both doing a good job (not great… good) at getting us to use our phones less with things like Screentime. Google recently announced a suite of tools (dubbed ‘experiments’) which help you use your phone less, or perhaps better. These solutions will help change some low-level behaviours but, in reality, phone companies don’t want you using your phone less. Instead, they want to get a better picture of your day to target ads that sell you things. Hey, Capitalism, what are you going to do? You can go down the app route; the phone companies will likely bake in what works as Apple did with the breathing app on the Apple Watch. All these tools don’t help you gain willpower or help you ditch your phone. Just use it less. A better strategy might be to double down and get to know your phone better to stop the rubbish from accumulating. One thing is unlikely to help everyone.  

  Mental health and ‘Mindtech’ aren’t just about apps and using your phone less; such technology can only do so much. A noise or a vibrate shouldn’t rule your life or be the thing that makes or breaks your day. Apps that serve mental health and wellbeing are just part of the mental health mix. Think of things that technology doesn’t need to be a part of (or a part of to begin with). Think about doing less, perhaps organising your ironing or cleaning via an outsourcing app. As Mari Kondo would say, ‘if something doesn’t bring you joy… don’t allow it in’. Scheduling ‘dead-time’ is also gaining popularity. Regular blocks of time in your calendar to think, reminisce, strategise and plan. Some of the top execs in Fortune 500 block out time in the afternoon for this. Time may be the mental health boost you need rather than the just the latest and greatest £2.99 app with in-built mechanics to make you spend more money. Apps or services that save you time might be all you need.   Babylon Health is an excellent example of where health is going just because of the sheer strain on various parts and the way society is going. The community is focusing on utility and services. A strategy that will not just make them money but also create new industries and economies for others.   What of the future? Phones and smartwatches will be integral parts of consumer health moving forward. Whether it’s MyFitnessPal, the Apple breathing app or a heart monitor, the benefits of using technology to augment your health is smart. Putting aside the data implications (and who owns what) for a second, the technology is still in its infancy. Eventually (5-10 years) we’ll have slow-release patches for a wider variety of ailments, mainstream swallowable nanobots that track us from the inside (trials already happening around the globe), diagnostic public toilets, full biohacking (from blood to the brain). These technologies and practices will then get blended with self-service and automated technologies that support healthcare professionals. Right now, we’re still in the baby territory on the growth scale, but that baby will be a toddler soon enough, and that’s likely when big debates will flare up (privacy, ownership, invasive tech). Additionally, the big platforms have a role to play: Instagram just banned an augmented reality filter that was to do with plastic surgery. Expect more moves like this as platforms see the PR win. Start thinking now about what your mental health and health strategy moving forward should be for you, your family and your employees. There’s no time like the present to utilise what’s here already and what’s coming.   Find out more about what’s coming at you in 2020 and beyond at this year’s TBD Conference. December 6th. Fora residents get a huge discount – contact your concierge team for more details.   

Paul Armstrong runs HERE/FORTH, an emerging technology advisory, is the author of ‘Disruptive Technologies’ and regularly writes about technology and society for Forbes, Reuters and Cool Hunting. He is also the creator of TBD: The conference which attendees described as ‘TED… without the bullsh!t’. www.thetbdconference.com