AnxietyTech 2019: Nice Mix of Mental Health Advocacy & MentalTech

I had the extreme privilege and pleasure of attending and speaking at the 2nd annual AnxietyTech Conference in NYC on August 23, 2019.

This conference’s attendance was majority developers and UX designers with a healthy representation of consumers, advocates and researchers also.

There were two tracks. One track focused on stories of the lived digital experiences of what I will call “mental health proactives” either because they are taking an active interest in mental health whether well, suffering or in recovery. May these ranks grow as we wish for a world where more and more become proactive and more competent and skillful in this area.

The second track focused more on tech experience with a nice representation of teams presenting their ideas and plans and researchers & advocates showcasing their findings and projects, with a nice persistent theme about “responsible” and “sustainable” experience.

This conference felt very much like Dr. Becky Inkster’s DIMH Conference that she puts on in London every summer for the last 3 years. Whenever I attend one of these I think about how we can extend the reach of these type gatherings more broadly beyond the West to the Global East and South where MentalTech environments are also taking shape.

Hallmarks were Non-Commercial Feel & Consumer Focus

I found this conference refreshingly non-commercial. It is not that investors and commercial types were not in attendance, there was even one panel on this topic, but that the conversations and talks were not obsessively focused on financial investment and scale. Actually, it focused on factors which will more readily lead to scale, the development of responsible and empathetic solutions that more and more human beings, all with mental health by the way, will be willing to use persistently.

I also found it refreshingly consumer-focused making room for the lived stories and experiences of those who use, are creating, and even critiquing, MentalTech.

My Favorite Talk & Discoveries:

My most favorite examples from the track I was able to attend were:

  • EIQ Technologies: a venture group working to use sensors to color-code individual and population emotional states over time and correlated to locational and situation contexts. This has the potential for heightening our emotional self-awareness on the path to increase emotional intelligence and regulation.
  • Norian Caporian-Berkowitz & Sam Bernecker talked about the topic of CrowdSourcing Mental Health Care where they examined peer support models. What I dug most about their talk was the categorization system they showed for peer support structures, and the concept of “reciprocal peer support”, somewhat akin to reverse mentoring. These categories are good for future categorizations of the various peer support plays which are cropping up all the time in the MentalTech space.
  • Pete Dunlap of Digital Detangler who did a fabulous talk sharing perspectives and hacks on how to turn our use of our digital devices and scattered attentions to more healthy use. I am reading his book, a guide to the mindful use of tech, and using his Chrome Extension, Scroll StopperI will also be looking for opportunities to expose his insights to more and more professional, caregiver and youth audiences who can use his insights.
  • Sarah Ticho of Hatsumi VR gave a talk on Virtual Reality & Art Therapy, which piqued my interest as I continually think about art therapy, virtual reality and their implications in the mental health space. She talked about their Body Map VR Platform which enables an illustration and visualization of embodied lived experiences using 3D paint tools. See a talk with Sarah Ticho about this, here. I see compelling implications in this tech for allowing non-, sub-, and super-verbal expression that improves emotional awareness, diagnosis and treatment.

Big kudos to this conference’s organizers, Jamund Ferguson and Kari Ferguson! I am a big fan as you can imagine and look forward to helping them continue to expand this part of the MentalTech movement.

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