Analysis Perspective

Trends in Mental Health Tech Research (1985 to 2018)

One of the clearest problems that stuck out to me going through crisis to recovery was the lack of tools available in Mental Health compared to any other industry I’ve experienced. It was pretty comical some of the conversations my doctor and I have had over the years. I mean, there’s wearables, mobile apps, tablet apps, AI, Big Data, Precision Medicine, etc. So, where’s the technology for Mental Health?

The most important priority in any person with a mental illness and/or serious mental illness is to get healthy and, then, productive. The person needs to know where they’re at in real-time because the disease(s) affect(s) behavior based on internal mechanisms of something that’s, right now, unnoticeable. There just isn’t much there and it leaves a lot of people stuck on both sides (and very political from my perspective because they don’t have enough data to make points and refutations directly to each other). Everyone really means well though.

So, just what is going on here? Google Scholar to the rescue…

Trends in Mental Health Publications from 1985 to 2018

I looked at searches related to wearables and mobile apps as well as the fMRI in research articles found on Google Scholar. So, what is going on? Well, fMRI completely dominated mental health technology research until recently. For those that don’t know, you go into this giant machine and it takes pictures of your brain and it takes about 30 minutes or up to 2 hours depending on what pictures the doctor wants to take. It costs A LOT of money. Now, new technology (e.g. wearables like the Apple Watch) and Mobile Apps (e.g. Calm) are much cheaper and real-time-ish, but don’t give you the full picture (so-to-speak) as a fMRI scanner. If you look into the trends with Mental Health Venture Capital funding, you’ll find that research and funding had a banner year in Mental Health in 2018 too.

Personally, I like where the research trend is going, but I certainly don’t think we completely understand how the brain operates nor how we can improve diagnoses better using fMRI technology and AI for a lot of these illnesses. I worry that there isn’t the right focus in the field, as a person with a lived experience myself, and that tech is eating research and putting it in the wrong direction. I’ll be looking into this more in follow-up posts to get a more defined picture of the field.

Dataset available here.