The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that more than 50% of the US population will have a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. In 2022 alone, at least 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental health issue. At the same time, the CDC also shows preventable chronic illnesses increase, shedding light on the need to offer more accessible mental health care.
Digital health company UAB Kilo Grupe explains the main trends that will shape mental health care in 2023.
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Ongoing mental health crisis
The Journal of Affective Disorders states that growing rates of anxiety and depression are tied to many issues. Poor work-life balance, social isolation, unhealthy eating, a sedentary lifestyle, chronic disease, sleep deprivation, and social media are among the top issues. The World Health Organization (WHO) also showed that Covid-19 bumped up rates of anxiety and depression by 25% in the first year alone.
A study in the EXCLI Journal of Clinical Sciences shows that Americans are spending more and more time on their phones. That is a major contributing factor to overall mental wellness. Excess screen time and fewer in-person connections increase loneliness, depression, and anxiety, as shown in a 2018 study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.
With the rise in awareness, people are starting to purchase digital detox retreats, phone silencing pouches, and analog alarm clocks, but it's not enough.
The Kilo Grupe health report showed that Americans are ready to use their phones for health services. But even with increased interest and telehealth becoming more common, 47% of adults under the age of 30 reported not getting the mental health services they needed within the last year.
The WHO states that untreated or inadequately treated depression is one of the primary causes of suicide. Sadly, depression and suicide rates for both youth and adults have been increasing over the last decade. The CDC now marks suicide as the second-leading cause of death among youth and young adults, and the numbers don’t show signs of decreasing.
Right now, 34% of adolescents are at risk of clinical depression, and about 2 in 10 high schoolers report seriously considering suicide, according to The National Alliance on Mental Illness.
How will we deal with the mental health crisis next year?
With rates of mood disorders and suicide dramatically increasing yearly, the need for accessible and effective mental health interventions is crucial.
A 2021 article on population health shows the primary barrier to receiving mental health care is affordability, making it all the more necessary to offer cost-effective and government-funded treatment options.
1. Blood tests for depression
While doctors are becoming more aware of the rise in mental health issues, they still fail to recognize depression in 30–50% of their patients, especially teens, as noted in the Industrial Psychiatry Journal.
A 2021 study from the Journal of Psychiatric Research shows researchers are trying to tackle this issue by testing methods to detect depression from blood. People with major depressive disorder (MDD) tend to have lower levels of specific proteins and enzymes, making depression easier to catch during routine check-ups. However, it’s not fail-proof and shouldn’t be the only testing method.
Another issue with this practice is that not all Americans get a yearly physical exam. Those with financial difficulties are at an even higher risk of depression and are more likely to avoid medical costs. Without insurance, less than half get the treatment they need, according to a Gallup poll. Yet another reason why affordable treatment is vital.
2. Mood-boosting apps
Mood-boosting apps are offering an easy way to tweak habits that help people feel more positive and calm, as reported by a study in JMIR mHealth and uHealth.
The goal is to offer a simple and personalized design that can be adapted to the complexities of people’s fluctuating moods. Through self-tracking, people manage their health habits and increase their awareness of emotions.
Users say a visual display of watching their mood over time allows them to reflect and observe patterns in their behavior. This process can help them learn to take different actions for more positive results when confronted with a similar situation in the future.
There’s also the potential for users to share their data with healthcare professionals to facilitate discussions and observations of their behavior. The apps could also offer psychoeducation around cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness tools. Creating communities within the app is also beneficial, as psychology research has long shown that perceived social support is one of the most critical factors in increasing mental health.
Overall, these apps can be cost-effective and accessible. Still, apps need more research to uncover which features and functions will be most effective.
3. Tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs) for mental health
Role-play is a commonly used technique by therapists to encourage behavior change by offering insight into different ways of handling difficult situations. It can be helpful for youth who might not want to go to therapy but can appreciate the fun of a game with a trained therapist. It can also be done in groups, allowing people to connect and build a supportive community.
Luckily, TTRPGs aren’t just for youth; they can work for people with underdeveloped social skills, a traumatic history, or those exploring their identity. While there are many different games, one called Geek Therapeutics was modeled after one of the most popular games on the market – Dungeons & Dragons. The creators currently work with mental health professionals and offer training to use the games and role-playing techniques with their patients.
They promote storytelling and allow players to imagine what their favorite character might say, helping them step into a new, more confident role. Players learn social skills and build friendships while reducing stress and having fun. A new study from the Nature Public Health Emergency Collection showed it helps with social anxiety and autistic individuals, as well.
Since games, apps, and blood tests can be effective with youth and adults, a promising future with new and creative ways to treat mental health issues appears to be on the horizon.