With the advancements in technology, there are numerous ways big data can be used to advance mental health research and provide potential solutions. Traditional mental health data such as administrative databases, surveys and EHRs have enabled researchers more familiar with this data to approach mental health research in innovative ways. Big data has enabled researchers to use machine learning to run experiments and test models. However, traditional mental health data has its limitations, including subjective comments from clinicians rather than clear insights from patients.
This is where mental health apps and social media are more useful. Reliable data can be collected from mental health apps and social media sites because users either provide more data or are more expressive. By assessing the frequency of app usage and the data provided, researchers can make insights into how to further help users.
However, this data needs to be approached carefully. Mental health apps are not perfect. Not many have been proven seamless and the data collected and distributed may not fall in line with ethical procedures. Likewise, social media data is problematic in that it is often the root cause of an individual’s mental health. It is possible to harness the power of big data even more by combining traditional mental health data with the data from mental health apps and social media, enabling researchers to take mental health research further and develop solutions.
Some of these solutions have manifested in the form of AI mental health startups. By using big data to fuel the behaviour of machines, some mental health startups are attempting to harness the power of AI in the hopes of providing better mental health support to patients. With all these advancements, however, the law has been slow to adapt. To ensure the privacy of patients and those struggling to manage their mental health, researchers, practitioners and companies need to work with these people and be mindful of the steps and actions they take.
By itself, big data cannot, considering the present state of technology, cure mental health, although its contribution is more and more important. It is necessary to combine the traditional and modern (big) data collection and processing methods.
All main actors should be involved and collaborate sincerely: the patients (main actors and beneficiaries) should be encouraged to provide truthful, reliable data by being reassured; the clinicians should be professional and understanding; the researchers should collect and process data with scientific rigour as much as possible; the experts should develop more appropriate technologies; the health authorities and politicians must ensure that regulations protect the confidentiality of data and of the patients altogether. All stakeholders should play their roles adequately. Then Big Data will be more and more efficient. The potential of big data in providing a cure to mental illnesses is limitless and this is only the start.
Written by Rodney
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