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Can social innovations help those with mental illnesses

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Can social innovations help those with mental illnesses

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Recently a study was released that highlighted the challenges inherent in uncovering mental illness in the workplace.  It found that nearly 40 percent of employees would try and cover up a mental health issue from their manager if they could.

Amongst the cohort who revealed a strong reluctance to share their health issues with their boss, the majority believed it would prove detrimental to their careers. Other reasons revealed included knowledge of how ‘coming out’ had gone for colleagues, the fear of losing good friends or a general combination of factors. Indeed, a large number believed their mental health problems were not affecting their work, so there was no need to tell their boss.

That this is an issue is hard to deny.  It’s estimated that there are 350 million people living with depression of some kind.  The very nature of depression can result in people feeling alone and isolated, and the aforementioned study does little to change that.

An effort to change things was launched recently.  The project, called Replace the Face takes the form of an interactive music video that people can watch simultaneously with other people.

Viewers are assigned either a male or female character, before then being encouraged to discuss a range of topics related to depression and suicide via a message board after watching the video.

The site is a collaboration between the Dutch agency Spektor and the Australian pop band Lowlakes.  The hope is that the music video can create a shared experience and encourage greater discussion around an often taboo subject.

Could it prompt greater discussion of mental illness within the workplace?  After all, the central premise of it all is that talking is good.

That was also the finding of a recent study conducted by a group of US universities, with the results revealing that talking about the illness can result in a reduction in depression of as much as 30%.

“That’s a very strong effect,” says Shelia Cotten, professor of telecommunication, information studies, and media at Michigan State University. “And it all has to do with older persons being able to communicate, to stay in contact with their social networks, and just not feel lonely.”

A selfie approach

A second interesting approach was identified in a paper published recently that highlights how a new computer app can analyze selfie videos recorded by sufferers as they interact with social media.

The researchers propose that their app allows professionals to quietly monitor the behavior of people as they go about their usual business online.

They suggest that it is unobtrusive as it doesn’t require any explicit input from users or for them to wear any special equipment, but there are obviously some privacy issues involved.

The team highlight however how they were able to detect a users heart rate simply by monitoring incredibly subtle changes in the color of that persons forehead.

The clips captured by the researchers revealed a number of tells about each participant, such as heart rate, blinking rate and head movement rate.

The system was also monitoring what the users were posting on social media, how quickly they scrolled and various other facets of their online meanderings.

The process was calibrated by sending volunteers a range of messages to induce certain emotions and compared their observations with the recorded mood of the volunteers.

Whether the program evolves out of the demo stage its currently in will depend largely I suspect on whether they can overcome the obvious privacy concerns the system raises, especially as those being monitored are vulnerable individuals.

The developers suggest that the data is only designed to be viewed by the users themselves, with no third parties given access to the data (unless the user allows them), but with hacking such a concern in the modern world, it remains an issue to overcome I feel.

I write about many innovative projects on this site, but I think the ones tackling mental illness are some of the more heart warming.  It will be interesting to see how these two projects develop.

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