Virtual Communities, Machine Learning and IoT: Opportunities and Challenges in Mental Health Research

Virtual Communities, Machine Learning and IoT: Opportunities and Challenges in Mental Health Research

Christo El Morr (York University, Toronto, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/IJEACH.2019010102
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Mental health challenges such as stress, anxiety and depression are on the rise worldwide. Health virtual communities (VCs) is a rising paradigm that has proven to be efficient and effective in delivering mental health interventions that address self-management, diagnosis and treatment targeting people facing mental health challenges. However, current Health VCs have limited application; they lack the ability to provide access to coordinated services and to continuously collect and integrate data originating from different devices in a streamlined manner. The Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning represent a unique opportunity to expand the Health Virtual Community applications in the mental health domain; however, they represent a unique situation where challenges arise. This article will discuss the opportunities and challenges that virtual communities, machine learning and IoT represent for mental health research.
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The Role Of Informatics

While non-medical based therapeutic interventions, such as mindfulness, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) (Caset et al., 2018; Hoffmann et al., 2018; Ostergaard et al., 2018), and Problem Solving Treatment (Gojani et al., 2018; Ghasemi et al., 2017), exist and can address mental illnesses (e.g. anxiety, stress), they cannot be provided in face-to-face manner for every person in need for them for the simple reason of lack of large specialized professional body; besides, face-to-face solutions can be extremely costly. Informatics can play an important role in scaling up mental health intervention for the provision of professional mental health care, set management of mental illness, and mental health promotion and prevention.

Moreover, individuals with mental illness, do not only need health professional care but also associated social services. Indeed, people face social economic barriers when dealing with mental health; some of these barriers are related to accessibility, lack of financial and professional resources, and social stigma (Perlick et al., 2010), lack of available services (Kaur et al., 2018), help seeking avoidance (VanHeerwaarden et al., 2018), and cultural barriers (Leong & Kailbatseva, 2011). Hence, the need for technology-based solutions to overcome economic and social barriers in relation to mental illnesses is high. Indeed, technology can be built to be accessible, provide ability to reach remote services, allows discovery of available services in a certain geographic location, encourages overcoming cultural barriers and stigma by connecting people from the privacy of their rooms to online services, and it support a sense of anonymity and privacy (Morr et al., 2017). Hence, technology-based programs open the door for alternative solutions to provide therapy targeting those who would otherwise not have the ability to seek out or receive services.

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