Monday, August 7, 2017

New Initiatives in Mental Health

Although my sabbatical stay at the Black Dog Institute in Sydney, Australia, is only half over, four new research initiatives have taken form already :

1) Body Mapping on the Body : Body Mapping is an initiative led by Dr. Katherine Boydell that involves people creating full-sized body maps that incorporate their visualizations of different conditions. Body maps have been developed for anxiety, psychosis and planning. What we are doing is using augmented reality technology to project these maps back onto people's bodies. We hypothesize that these self-applied maps may intensify or change how people experience the body maps and potentially affect the interventions that incorporate them in useful ways.

2) Abuse Monitoring : Among the potential areas of application for smart garments in the area of mental health, one application jumps out as a priority. Although the technology to make this truly workable in an unobtrusive and low maintenance manner needs to be refined, the basic technology exists today to develop a garment with pressure-sensitive pads that could record and track blows to the body. Combined with a microphone and some accelerometers to monitor sudden movements, it appears that a garment could be developed in conjunction with an app that identifies situations likely to involve abuse. Currently we are working with specialists of physical abuse to better determine the specifications for such a garment, as well as exploring the technological requirements.

3) Symptom Monitoring : In a way that parallels the Abuse Monitoring application, the incorporation of accelerometers, microphones as well as sensors for monitoring changes in mood could be used to track and assess a range of mental health conditions and disorders, including anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. This would compliment existing smartphone apps that rely on self reporting. The issues, as for all smart garments, is to develop a way to incorporate the electronics in a manner that allows their removal and reconnection quickly and easily to support garment maintenance, as well as to find circuit architectures that keep power requirements to a minimum. Designs are being developed and appropriate technologies identified.

4) Brief Contact Support : One of the functions currently supported by certain smart phone apps is the ability to send brief "pick-me-up" messages to people with self image issues. By incorporating actuators such as vibrators or tiny heating elements, it would be possible to send more visceral, physical messages of caring to another person, perhaps accompanied by verbal messages if necessary. A design for such a garment is being prepared.

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