From biofeedback devices to telehealth, mental health providers are getting more innovative

Posted at 9:17 PM, Nov 05, 2020

Many mental health facilities were closed earlier this year due to the pandemic, so therapists had to find new ways to reach their patients. Over the course of 2020, providers have come up with a number of innovative ways to help -- such as by using biofeedback devices.

“They're really visually able to see OK, this is actually working and calming me down. And secondarily for our therapist, it allows them another data point to watch what their patient is doing,” Brett Shrewsbury, chief commercial officer for Meru Health, said.

It’s just one of the tools in the toolbox for mental health therapists to better connect with and understand their patients without meeting in person.

“It allows us and the therapist to take the patient through exercises of deep breathing and heart rate variability and shows visually, within our app and the Bluetooth connection we have, how their deep breathing is having a positive impact,” Shrewsbury said. “We built a program that solely is to treat depression and anxiety effectively. So there’s self-care and digital content and it’s guided by that licensed therapist that's taking the patient through.”

Meru Health works with a number of companies and health plans, one of them being the Mental Health Center of Denver.

“Our goal was to meet people where they are and they’re on these screens,” Alires Almon, director of innovation for The Mental Health Center of Denver, said.

“Part of our digital capabilities include the text messages, then we have the curated resources that people can explore on their own,” she said. “People that we serve get the opportunity to get all these digital capabilities at their fingertips.”

This comes at a time where taking care of your mental health is more important than ever. 78% of Americans said the coronavirus is a significant source of stress, according to the American Psychological Association.

More than 1 in 3 adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic, up from 11% last year, according to information from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“The demand is increasing day over day, and especially the longer this pandemic happens the more demand and the more acceptable it is for people to reach out which creates more of a demand,” Almon said.

But with the use of technology, centers like this one can help meet that rising demand.

“Looking at our total toolkit, technology is an important means to become a force multiplier,” Wes Williams, vice president at The Mental Health Center of Denver, said.

He said they went from five to 4,000 telehealth sessions a week in a one- week transition. However, it will take more than telehealth sessions to expand the number of people they can help.

“A therapist can still only see five or six patients a day even through teletherapy, where as with our program where they’re texting back and forth more than they’re doing face to face sessions, we’re able to scale right now almost six times scalability,”Shrewsbury said.

Mental health centers are experimenting with more possibilities to help reach people where they’re at.

“Everyone realized there's a need for mental health and I think people are starting to bring innovation in,” Shrewsbury said.