Arshya Vahabzadeh, MD looks at the future of mental health through the convergence of clinical neuroscience, data science, and technology. Dr. Vahabzadeh was part of the faculty at this month’s Exponential Medicine Conference where he presented his inspiring talk on the “Future of Psychiatry”.
Exponential Medicine, #xmed, is held annually in conjunction with Singularity University. What I like about the program is its cross-disciplinary approach to faculty and attendees. Leading thinkers, innovators and practitioners come together to reveal what is happening across labs and in clinical trials today, as well as the technologies that will revolutionize medicine in the next two to ten years.
Mental Health Today
In his talk, Dr. Vahabzadeh stresses the importance of mental health care today. He shares some startling statistics. Mental health conditions affect one in five Americans in any given year, and those with serious conditions will die 20 years younger than the rest of us.
Mental health conditions are also the leading cause of disability nationally, and across the world.
Mental health and physical health are directly linked. “Many of our behavioral and mental health issues are driving some of our largest costs in chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease,” according to Dr. Vahabzadeh.
“We’re seeing transformational change in the neurosciences and data science, and the fusion of both of these disciplines will herald unprecedented change,” he says, adding that companies like Google see this transformation coming.
Technology for Mental Health Diagnosis
Thomas Insel, MD, who served as the Head of the National Institute of Mental Health since 2002, was asked to join Google’s Life Sciences division which is part of Alphabet. Insel says, “In the future, when we think of the private sector and health research, we may be thinking of Apple and IBM more than Lilly and Pfizer.”
We are at a really interesting moment in time. Technology that already has had such a big impact, on entertainment and so many aspects of our lives, can really start to change health care. If you ask the question “What parts of health care can technology transform?”–mental health could be one of the biggest.
Technology can cover much of the diagnostic process because you can use sensors and collect information about behavior in an objective way. Also, a lot of the treatments for mental health are psychosocial interventions, and those can be done through a smartphone. And most importantly, it can affect the quality of care, which is a big issue, especially for psychosocial interventions.
The U.S. government has also committed 300 million dollars for public and private brain research through its Brain Initiative which I covered in a former post.
In addition to apps and smartphones, Dr. Vahabzadeh points to trends in Big Data, machine learning and artificial intelligence, provider platforms, telemedicine, and newer “brain” wearables, like Muse and the Thinq app.
People want these technologies. The patients that we see want to be empowered. – Dr. Vahabzadeh
New Wearable to Manage Stress
A new wearable was announced this week targeted to help people manage stress. Developed by Caeden, the elegant Sona bracelet monitors heart rate variability (HRV), which is used to collect information about the cardiovascular and nervous systems.
Sona features an accompanying smartphone app, Resonance, where users can get breathing exercise and meditation suggestions when the system senses they are stressed. The app is compatible with Apple’s HealthKit on iOS, and will be available in April.
Technology is extremely important for children as many parts of the U.S. do not have any child psychiatrists.
Humans are simply not enough to deliver the mental health care that we need. – Dr. Vahabzadeh
What are the technologies that will drive the next line of research and clinical solutions?
- Brain Stimulation
- Informatics and Digital Mental Health
- Optimizing the Mind-Body Connection
In one of his many roles, Dr. Vahabdadeh serves as the Director of Digital Health for Brain Power, a neuro-technology company that utilizes smart glasses to treat children with autism. Children can engage in realtime with their loved ones in the comfort of their own home.
Brain Power has identified four key challenges that children with autism face – social interactions, language, behavior control, and category information – and develops tools for them.
Dr. Vahabzadeh is the Innovation Officer at the Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatry Academy, and Chairman of the Council on Communications of the American Psychiatric Association.
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