This time of year—the summer
months—are memorable for many families, and a big part of that is due to the
holidays we celebrate. Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day all
honor our soldiers—but what are we really
doing when they need our help?
Whether it be due to the pandemic,
previous trauma, or other factors, a lot of people are struggling with their
mental health today—and they don’t need to be. They just need to find the right
help. This is particularly true for veterans.
Data can help in diagnosing mental health conditions
While the nation doesn’t take
mental health as seriously as it should, the medical community also doesn’t
have a standard by which they diagnose mental health conditions. Accuracy in
psychiatry is low: when two psychiatrists see the same patient, the odds that
they will agree on a diagnosis and path for treatment is less than 30%.
I’m a biomedical engineer and data
scientist, so I may be biased, but in my opinion—data is the solution. And
where can we get a wealth of data that can be used to analyze and assess shifts
and changes in behaviors, which may give us insights into mental health? The
same place businesses and websites mine data from—consumer technology.
I partnered with a neuroscientist,
a neuropsychologist, and a physician in 2020, and we created Behavidence
health tracking application—to address the mental health crisis in our country,
and we’re hoping to have a big impact on the veteran population. Research
suggests that about half of recent veterans struggling with behavioral health
concerns, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, do not
seek care for such concerns.
How to reach veterans to better understand mental health care needs
However, reaching veterans to
understand more about their care-seeking behaviors poses a conundrum. Clinical
settings are typically where veterans are recruited for studies, and therefore
the population of interest—those not
seeking care—is not represented. How do we reach veterans who need care but do not receive it?
saw an opportunity to apply what I had learned in biomedical engineering and
imaging artificial intelligence to leverage consumer technology to monitor,
measure, and improve the mental health of veterans. Our Behavidence
understands mobile interactions to help create a profile of at-risk people. The
score is based on a digital behavior comparison to other people diagnosed with
ADHD, depression, or anxiety. We’re conducting research with the veteran
population, and you can learn more about the study content here.
The numbers don’t lie: one in five
U.S. adults experience mental illness each year; one in 20 experience serious
mental illness each year; 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by the age
of 14 (and 75% by age 24); and suicide is the second leading cause of death.
These stats are jarring but ever-present in the work that companies like Behavidence
A few years ago, researchers at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System
significant association between the severity of PTSD in 60 male veterans and a
greater frequency of suicidal thoughts, plans, and impulses. And that’s how I
hope companies like mine can help veterans.
It’s hard to be self-aware and to
know when our moods are normal ebbs and flows or indicative of a larger issue.
If you’re not self-aware, making choices and decisions about your mental health
becomes more challenging—which leads to those most in need failing to seek out
mental health support and treatment. This comes at a dire cost.
This is where data can help. If we
can see how our moods and behaviors are trending, or identify patterns that
illustrate extremes in our moods, then we can understand ourselves better and
become more self-aware. Increasing self-awareness and empowering each of us to
identify and avoid mental decline puts the control back in our hands. We don’t
need to fall victim to mental health crises. We have the tools—the
technological solutions—that will helps us identify problems so that we can
work with our physicians to get accurate diagnoses and effective treatments.
hopeless, experiencing an emotional crisis, or engaging in self-destructive
behavior, such as drug abuse, should call the Veterans Crisis Line at