Sunday, December 20, 2015

cathedralized WEIRD-ness will shape the algorithmic baselines for normalcy



telegraph |  Yes, we now live in a world where your phone might observe you to help assess your mental health. If you don’t find that prospect disturbing, you’re either fantastically trusting of companies and governments or you haven’t thought about it enough.

But that feeling of unease should not determine our response to technology in mental health. In fact, we should embrace and encourage the tech giants as they seek to chart the mind and its frailties, albeit on the condition that we can overcome the enormous challenge of devising rules and regulations protecting privacy and consent.

Because, simply, existing healthcare systems are failing and will continue to fail on mental health. Even if the current model of funding the NHS was sustainable, the stigma that prevents us discussing mental health problems would ensure their prevention and treatment got a disproportionately small slice of the pie.

We pour ever more billions into dealing with the worst problems of physical health, and with considerable success. Death rates from cancer and heart disease have fallen markedly over the last 40 years. Over the same period, suicide rates have gone up. 

Even as the NHS budget grows, NHS trusts’ spending on mental health is falling. If someone with cancer went untreated, we’d say it was a scandal. Some estimates suggest one in five people who need “talking therapies” don’t get them. In a rare bit of enlightened thinking, some NHS trusts are supporting Big White Wall, an online service where people can anonymously report stress, anxiety and depression, take simple clinical tests and talk to therapists.

Technology will never be a panacea for mental illnesses, or our social failure to face up to them. But anything that makes them cheaper and easier and more mundane to deal with should be encouraged.

If you think the idea of Google assessing your state of mind and your phone monitoring you for depression is worrying, you’re right. But what’s more worrying is that allowing these things is the least bad option on mental health. Fist tap Arnach.