AnxietyTech 2019 Conference Recap

By Nhan Vu

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      AnxietyTech is a conference started by Kari & Jamund Ferguson, a husband and wife team that aims to “explore how technologists can better contribute to the growing mental health challenges in the world”. They brought together researchers, technologists, and mental health professionals to discuss the intersection of mental health and technology. It is a conference for programmers, researchers, technology developers, and health providers in order to expand the conversation surrounding how technology is changing the way in which we understand and approach mental health challenges.

      The event started with two keynote speakers before diverging into two rooms, with two different speakers presenting at the same time in different rooms. Attendees were given an agenda and speaker bios beforehand and you got to choose who you wanted to see. Topics included mental health wearable technology, using AI to help treat mental illnesses, designing for healthier technology habits, and using immersive tech as a form of therapy (among many others).

Presentations

     Here are the important highlights from the presentations that I was able to attend:

Dr. Jud Brewer - Director of Research and Innovation at School of Medicine, Brown University

  • Rates for students going into counseling has increased over the years, indicating an increased importance being placed on mental health.
  • Willpower relies on the prefrontal cortex, which is the weakest part of our brain
    • Willpower gets depleted when we are stressed out.
  • Orbitofrontal cortex stores reward value, or what we deem as rewarding.
  • Instead, focusing on awareness helps us see the lack of reward value for old habits, which opens the door for new, healthier habits
    • This could look like using an emotion like curiosity to replace fear and anxiety.

Julia Nguyen - Community Organizer, Writer, Founder of if-me.org

  • As employees and members of society, we feel a need to feel validated and have impact.
    • AnxietyTech is a conference started by Kari & Jamund Ferguson, a husband and wife team that aims to “explore how technologists can better contribute to the growing mental health challenges in the world”.
  • Self-care movement is gaining popularity, however,  self-care is not a replacement for mental health treatment.
    • Self-care is not a product, and you shouldn’t need money to do it
  • People who take care of others need help themselves too, practice self-preservation
    • Your impact on others doesn’t define you, don’t forget about the impact that you have on yourself.

Bradley Gabr-ryn - Product Designer, Facebook

  • How do companies keep you hooked on their products
    • Digital Hooks - strategies to entice users to adopt their product
    • Creating Scarcity - trick users into valuing their products more
    • Social Proof - “like” culture and getting validation from your peers
    • Personalization - allows you to customize your own experience
  • Apps bring native human desires into an intensified and easily accessible format
    • A side effect, our regular means of connection no longer feel as fulfilling
  • How do we design with mental health in mind
    • It starts by opening the conversation, making the convo around mental health normalized
    • Stop saying “users”, instead say “people” 
    • Be transparent, comprehensible, and clear with your intentions (helping users understand a system helps inform how they use that product)
    • Value people’s time (remind people to have healthy tech habits, don’t spend too much time on devices)
    • Provide a good exit experience (easy to find, transparent and understandable, comforting)

    Some other miscellaneous takeaways from the conference surrounded the topic of social media and smartphone usage. Social media use lowers life satisfaction, while smartphone use has the capacity to diminish the cognitive ability and closeness and trust we feel with others. As a result, the act of texting doesn’t provide emotional support. It is important to take these factors into consideration when designing mental health apps.  Additionally, mental health apps aren’t always customized to individual user’s experience, instead, they are built for the masses.

      I think this conference is a great way to get a pulse on the current landscape of mental health technology. You learn about how technology is being used as a vehicle to address mental health issues, and you also get to hear from a wide range of perspectives. However, the conversation only begins here. The hope is attendees can take what they learn and bring it back to their teams, communities, and personal lives and continue the conversation there. As much is being done already, there is still so much work to do in this space. It all starts with an honest conversation.



READ MORE: Tracking Mental Health with UX Research MethodsThe Social Experience of Digital Reality UseDesign Thinking vs. Design FeelingKeeping Up With Programming Trends

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