1 in 5 Youth Experience Severe Mental Illness Each Year—Can Big Data Help Them?

One in five youth experience a severe mental illness each year, and just over half receive mental health services. Research shows 50 percent of mental illness begins by age 14, and 75 percent by age 24. Mental illness can have a serious impact on youth, their families, and communities, with 50 percent of students age 14 and older with mental illness dropping out of high school, and 70 percent of youth with mental illness in state and local juvenile justice systems[1]. Can this public health issue be improved through more effective use of data and data-driven innovation?

Data-driven innovation for mental illness can lead to improvements in prevention and treatment. Research from the CDC shows the collection and monitoring of information about mental illness over time can increase understanding of mental illness in youth, inform research on prevention, evaluate the effectiveness of mental health programs, and monitor whether treatment and prevention efforts are achieved. Creative innovations in technology for mental health has increasingly been a priority for federal agencies, tech start-ups, and research conglomerates, and these different sectors are coming together to address creatively how to best use data-driven innovations to impact mental health. One example of this is an MIT start-up called Ginger.io which uses smartphone technology to gather valuable insights into the mental well-being of people with mental illnesses. Lantern, another innovative internet-based program for mental health, uses an individually tailored treatment plan through social support, education, and one-on-one coaching. With the prevalence of mobile use among youths, text-based or internet-based innovations for mental illness can be an effective channel to collect data and monitor whether treatment and prevention programs are achieved.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 15-24, and 90 percent of those who died of suicide had an underlying mental illness. In December 2015, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) collaborated with technology nonprofits and local agencies to host #MentalHealthHackathon with the mission of “using data to strengthen mental health awareness and suicide prevention.” This effort by the administration proved that the power of using data effectively and innovative data-driven technology can increase awareness of mental illness and suicide prevention.

Different sectors are working together to promote mental health through creative technology and are changing lives. Bringing data to life in ways that matter in health and health care has become a priority of the federal government, and Health Datapalooza, produced by the non-profit, AcademyHealth, embodies that commitment. This year’s meeting includes remarks by Vice President Joe Biden, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, and Acting Assistant Secretary for Health Karen DeSalvo. They’ll be joined by a mix of patient advocates and industry leaders, as well as hackers, coders and researchers who spend their days digging through open data for ways to improve health and engage patients. As someone who gets excited about data and research, I am very much looking forward to attending this year’s Health Datapalooza event on May 9 and 10.

[1] https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/Children-MH-Facts-NAMI.pdf