From Instagram and Twitter to Fitbits and Apple Watches, we humans love our self-tracking devices. Whether it’s likes, steps or calories, navel gazing at our own activities and accomplishments has become a popular pastime. But if you’re tracking for health, it’s hard to make changes and do anything with the data without the right insights. And when it comes to something as nuanced as mental health, can we really make those insights on our own? Sure, we might know after a stressful day to meditate or journal or take a yoga class. But what if we could track the biomarkers that indicate impact on our mental health on a daily basis and learn the skills to alter them, so the tension happens less frequently and for less time?
Riding the wave of wearables, Feel Wristband hopes to help all of us become aware of the patterns that contribute to poor mental health. Mental health is a large-stage health issue that’s finally getting more attention, but even if you don’t have a diagnosed condition, keeping your mental state in check and calm is beneficial for anyone. There’s much debate about the ills that come hand-in-hand with the benefits of technology. Does it make us anti-social? Isolated? Unhappy?
In his TEDx talk, George Eleftheriou, co-founder and CEO of Sentio Solutions and its product Feel, makes the argument that technology can make us happier. We dug into this idea more when we sat down at the Health 2.0 conference.
Your product, the Feel wristband, uses effective computing technology, specifically, skin conductance, heart rate and skin temperature. Why these markers, and what are they telling you about someone’s emotional state?
You may have noticed that you sweat when you are stressed or that your heart pounds faster when you’re angry. Those are indicators from your autonomic nervous system that tell you a particular emotional stimulus just happened. What we are doing is monitoring the changes in those indicators in order to identify similarities in the patterns that are related specifically to the emotional stimuli.
This scientific field has been established over the past 20 years at universities like MIT, where they have proven that through monitoring those physiological signals, we can recognize different emotional states. We developed our technology for Feel based on those principles, and that’s why we are using these biomarkers—they have proven to be the most effective in the emotional recognition area.
I watched your TEDx talk about “Can technology make you happy?” Who is Feel for, and what’s the brand idea behind it?
The word that comes to mind is “caring.” If you look at our wristband, we were thinking about the sensation of someone holding your hand, the same way a mother would hold a baby’s hand at the wrist. This is the feeling of consistent care and support. That’s what we want to convey: We are by your side and know when to intervene, because we understand how you feel.
In the same way that everyone has “dental health,” everyone has “mental health.” You could have a dental cavity; in the same way, someone could suffer from a mental health condition. What’s different is that we pay attention to dental health on a daily basis, but we don’t do the same for mental health.
This technology can be used broadly by the general population that hasn’t been diagnosed with any mental condition. Because we are selling to health plans and employers, we are targeting populations who are at a high-risk for experiencing mental health conditions: those who suffer from chronic disease, those who have experienced a severe life event, or even those who have had the loss of a family member or loved one. These groups may not have a specific diagnosis but still are at a high risk for suffering from mental health conditions. Mental health challenges are not rare. One out of five people every year suffers from a mental health condition; maybe 10% of those are severe.
The other use case for Feel is patient management for populations that do have a diagnosis of mild to modest depression or anxiety. Right now, we don’t have a focus for populations who have a severe mental illness and are under medical treatment. Our goal for the future is to have the scientific proof to go through the FDA and have the Feel device used by everyone who suffers from mental health disorders. For example, journaling is very important in the therapy for bipolar disorder. It helps people to track and notice the changes in mood, which can be life-threatening. Feel’s technology with pattern mapping could be an excellent additive to treatment.
When information is transferred to the app, does a person receive guidance and coaching from the app itself? Or are there mental health professionals involved?
Both. Our offering is an augmented mental health program; this is a four-month, fully remote program that involves technology as well as a therapist. We fully monitor your emotional state 24/7, and then every time we see an intense emotional experience happen, we intervene. So first, there’s artificial intelligence intervention—let’s say for example, you’re stressed. We will send you a notification: “We see something stressful has occurred—tell us about it.” And then we will walk you through a cognitive process to reflect on this emotion.
This is very similar to mood journaling as a cognitive behavioral therapist would ask you to do. Then, after we get that from you, we send your feedback to a therapist who sees that information along with your data. Once a week the therapist meets with you for 15 minutes to effectively incorporate the data into your treatment.
Do you have a strategy in mind for tracking other things that impact emotions such as hormones or fitness?
Yes, we’re planning on keeping the focus on mental health—and this may extend to tracking the impact of other things like sleep, nutrition and physical activity. Our sensors can track some of this information already, even if it may not be reported to users currently. The truth is, the data is not what matters—the insight into the data is what’s key. And then the recommended intervention for your behavior.
I saw you have a 2-year/10-year vision for the company. What does that look like?
Every medical practice has its own objective tools and biomarkers to help physicians provide better care or better evaluate conditions. When someone is suffering from diabetes, he or she monitors glucose levels every day. When someone is suffering from heart disease, he or she monitors blood pressure. But when someone is suffering from anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder, there’s no objective metric to monitor. Of course, there are psychometrics but these are self-reported and usually collected within a therapist’s office.
Our goal in the next few years is to identify those unique indicators related to relapse, depressive episodes, panic attacks and so forth, so we can alert individuals or caregivers. This is the vision, but we’re not there yet. Our beta user program will help us gather more data and move our vision further along, so I encourage people to join us and participate.
Nicole Diamant is head of communications for InterbrandHealth.