How A New Biomarker Technology Represents A Revolution In Mental Health Treatment

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  • COVID-19 has caused a huge rise in the number of people experiencing mental health challenges, such as loneliness, anxiety and depression
  • Effective therapy is available for a wide range of mental health disorders, however the problem lies in diagnosing an issue to begin treatment in the first place
  • The kenkou Software Development Kit (SDK) is leading a new wave of solutions, relying on multiple innovative biological measures in order to diagnose these conditions

Outside of the more direct influence COVID has had on public health, it’s been revealed that its secondary impacts of loneliness, stress and anxiety present significant and longer term health challenges. Lockdowns and social distancing have contributed to a pandemic of such mental health disorders, and despite effective treatment being available to those who seek it - diagnosis has not previously been widely available.

That is, until the recent development of innovative solutions that leverage biological indicators for their diagnosis. Such devices, known as HRV biofeedback devices, measure heart rate variability (HRV) in order to teach their wearers how to create coherent oscillations in their heart rate alongside a greater insight into their mental health. If used effectively, this innovation could represent a seminal step forward in the early diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses, which is timely when bearing in mind their proliferation after COVID-19 .

COVID’s Effect On Mental Health

As it seemingly has in almost every other facet of life, COVID-19 has been successful in spiralling this poor situation even further out of control. As a result of the extensive periods of deep lockdown, two important changes have occurred: a deterioration in work-life balance driven by a coalescence of the two, and an acceleration of the adoption of the sedentary, work-from-home future.

Both of these changes have resulted in significant negative effects for the state of the world’s mental health. For example loneliness, which is more damaging to a person than smoking, obesity, and even increases the risk of an early death, has surged amongst the UK population. Furthermore, this is an international phenomenon, with nearly 40% of the US population also reporting they feel seriously lonely.

The gravity of the situation was revealed by the World Health Organization (WHO) with its announcement that over 250 million people around the world have depression .  Despite this, the availability of psychotherapy is only dwindling further, as waiting lists continue to fill up - and increase in length. It has been extremely challenging for anyone to get the help they need, especially in the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and its pressures on health services.

The New Approach

Recent scientific developments have shown the relevance of heart rate variability as a biomarker for an individual’s resilience in mental health. It is thought to be particularly reliable and accurate in measuring resilience as it is based on an objective, biological measurement as opposed to a subjective report. Several companies have already taken the initiative to implement this innovation into a product that individuals can use.

Kenkou

Kenkou was founded in 2014 with a singular focus: improving people’s health. It was quick to realise the importance of heart rate variability in mental health. The kenkou team’s interpretation of this revolution is simple and intuitive, involving the user placing his/her finger on a smartphone’s rear camera, where kenkou’s SDK (Software Development Kit) analyzes the pulse wave and then extracts vital signs, such as heart rate & heart rate variability (HRV).

Once the data is collected, the user receives a report on the state of the body and mental health, in addition to advice regarding how to increase his/her heart rate variability to help increase wellbeing, both emotionally and physically. The solution does not require wearables, such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch, and the technology is available for anyone to access without queues or waiting times.

Matthias Puls, kenkou Managing Director, says: “Heart rate variability (HRV) measurements are used more and more in clinical environments to detect stress, as well as the progress of CBT treatment. We finally have access to quantitative data in an area like mental health that still often relies only on subjectively reported states. HRV Biofeedback is a highly effective and easy method to support cognitive therapies from a physical perspective.”

Closing Remarks

On balance, the use of heart rate variability as a biomarker for mental and physical wellbeing by an SDK is an innovative solution to the pre-existing problem of rising mental health issues. It alleviates the pressure on, for example, effective CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) methods of treatment which are inaccessible to many due to unprecedented demand. This revolution could not have arrived at a more timely moment, considering the effect COVID-19 had on the prevalence of mental health diseases.

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