Can Smartphones Help Protect Mental Health During Lockdown?

In Health and Wellness, Individual, Mental Health by Paul Howell

As we all adapt to the challenges, stresses and strains of being locked down, research suggests smartphones could help in monitoring the mental health impact of Covid-19.

While there is a huge amount of focus, quite rightly, being placed on the physical health implications of COVID-19, conversations about the impact on our mental health don’t seem as abundant. But the ongoing coronavirus situation is a concern for many simply because of its unprecedented nature and the uncertainty it has caused. 

Mental health charity Mind has warned that people are already struggling to access the support they need. In response to the situation, Mind has created a bespoke coronavirus information hub to provide information and support for people who are finding things emotionally hard right now.

COVID-19 has ‘pervasive effect on mental health’

Echoing Mind’s warning, researchers have said there is an urgent need to tackle the harmful impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people’s mental health, and potentially the brain.

Writing in a paper recently published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, the researchers said: “The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is having a profound effect on all aspects of society, including mental health and physical health.”

They added that the psychological and social effects of coronavirus are “pervasive” and could affect mental health both now and in the future. Widespread social isolation, loneliness, stress, health anxiety and an economic downturn are a perfect storm to negatively impact people’s mental health and wellbeing.

‘Digital response crucial’

The 24 leading mental-health experts, including psychiatrists and psychologists, also said they want widespread “moment-to-moment” monitoring of the population’s mental health. Doing nothing, the researchers warned, could lead to a rise in conditions such as anxiety and depression. As a result, more people could end up turning to alcohol, drugs and gambling, while homelessness could also become a bigger issue.

They believe COVID-19 and mental health symptoms could be observed through smartphones. Support could then be tailored to help specific groups, such as children and front-line health workers.

The research paper suggests that questions relating to COVID-19 and mental health symptoms and social stressors could be readily disseminated through smartphones. In addition, passive data could also be collected from smartphones to give near real-time information regarding behaviours related to the pandemic.

To mitigate mental health difficulties under stressful circumstances (like we are presently experiencing), the researchers advised people to see and remain in touch with their family, and get sufficient sleep.

[Related reading: How COVID-19 Is Transforming Primary Care Services]

Speaking recently about the mental health implications of COVID-19, Dr. Sue Varma, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University, emphasised the importance of sleep, sunlight, exercise and self-care in helping people cope with the ongoing pandemic situation.

Whether we will see smartphones being used to help protect the mental health of people amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that it is essential to have real-time information to truly understand the impact on mental health and the use of smartphones is a perfect solution – almost everyone has one!

I joined Premier Choice Group as an SME/Corporate Consultant in 2017 and look after the Healthcare & Protection needs of a nationwide portfolio. I began my career in Healthcare and Protection in 1985 with BUPA, before moving on to  Royal & Sun Alliance. In 2002, I became an Intermediary and worked with Private Clients, SME’s and Corporate clients on a local, national and international basis.