When we think of wearable health technology, most of us think of physical health—pedometers that count steps, insulin pumps, heart monitors, and so on. But wearables also have a role to play in behavioral health.
Many digital mental health apps and devices are still in development or pilot stages. However, they have shown promise in helping to:
- Monitor emotional states in individuals with cognitive or emotional difficulties
- Track physical activity that can improve mental health symptoms
- Encourage mental health medication adherence
- Administer mental health surveys
- Remind users to complete behavioral health activities, such as journaling or meditation
- Analyze sleep duration and quality
What science shows us
A 2021 review of 18 previous studies showed that wearable devices could help detect symptoms of depression and lead to more personalized treatment plans. The devices included in the studies measured a variety of health factors, including motion and activity, skin temperature, heart rate, and sleep.
Research has suggested that individuals with depression may have a higher body temperature compared to healthy controls. One study included in the review found that skin temperature, monitored with a special wristband, could help identify depression.
Other research has found that circadian rhythm irregularities are also linked to symptoms of depression. Sleep monitoring devices could be used to identify patients with depressive symptoms and refer them to appropriate treatment options, such as bright light therapy for those with seasonal affective disorder.
Possible wearable drawbacks
While the researchers see a lot of potential in using wearable devices for mental health, they also pointed out some shortcomings. Not all mental health symptoms can be easily detected. Devices may be unreliable or inaccurate, or come with serious data security issues. Further developments in research and technology, however, could overcome many of these challenges.
In other cases, however, the usefulness of the wearables can depend on the user. Many users may find the devices uncomfortable or inconvenient, or may find compliance difficult.
In a Psychology Today article, Pamela B. Rutledge, PhD, notes that fitness trackers may become demoralizing rather than encouraging for some individuals. Not everyone may have the self-awareness to set realistic goals for the wearables they use, and thus could get discouraged when they do not meet their own expectations.
There is also a possibility that wearables may worsen symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. Certain personality types may become obsessed with the data that these wearable devices generate, leaving them unable to enjoy any positive results.
Like other behavioral health tools, wearable technology may be less useful by itself. When used in combination with other treatments, like medication or cognitive behavioral therapy, mental health wearables could be a valuable option for behavioral health providers and clients.
Ultimately, the benefits of wearable technology will depend on how a person uses them. If your behavioral health client is considering wearable technology, make sure to choose a device that is appropriate for the client’s goals and provides the right type of feedback. Be sure to take a client’s individual needs, abilities, and personality into account when recommending a monitoring device.
Behavioral health wearables require a lot of data collection and monitoring. BestNotes EHR offers features like ready-to-use documentation, medication management, telehealth, and outcome tracking, so you can achieve and report the best outcomes. Get in touch with us today to get started, or schedule your free demo!