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Mental well-being, gratefulness and technology
This post was first published earlier this year. But I updated to reflect our upcoming event. The message, however, is timeless and apropos, in light of Thanksgiving -- a time to remember gratitude.
Leading up to my conference "Future of Mental and Behavioral Health" on March 25, 2020, Thursday at UCSF Health Hub, I want to touch on gratefulness and the question: Do we need technology and innovation to be grateful?
To answer that, I want to share some words of wisdom from two good friends.
My friend Pastor Bart Garrett of Christ Church in Berkeley, Ca. shared these two thoughts in his sermon: "Life is a gift" and "Live each day as your first." These words so profoundly impacted my family, I made signs out of them [see image] and hung in our house to remind us to always be grateful.
My other friend Peter Thiel was asked in an interview with Dave Rubin what advice he'd give to people who want to feel "hopeful" about the future. His short answer: Look beyond yourself and stop comparing yourself to others.
Simply put: stop looking inward. Depression and other forms of anxiety often manifest when we our consumed with our own problems, trying to measure up to others who seemingly have a better life and are getting more attention.
These two things: Transcendence and not comparing ourselves to others lead to one thing: gratefulness. Being grateful for what we have.
If we consume ourselves with appreciation for what we have, we leave little room for feeling bad for what we don't.
Peter quoted the 10 commandments in the Bible to make this point. But for those who don't believe in the Bible, then read this post about what neuroscientists say about the healing power of gratefulness.
As our society becomes more aware of mental health fragility, we're seeing a number of new technologies that give us access to therapists, communities or software that can help us think more positively. In many ways - they're all trying to modify our outlook to be grateful.
It begs the question: Do we need technology to be grateful?
But it can be helpful in encouraging us and guiding us to be more grateful.
It's akin to asking do we need technology to stay fit? We don't really need technology to run barefoot and get our miles in. But we need technology to motivate us to be the best we can be and more. More than 50 million people paid for gym memberships in the US, spending about $24 billion a year to work out with fancy tech-enhanced equipment.
Looked at another way: Do we need technology to lose weight? We don't need tech to lower calories. But the weight loss industry is $66 billion and Weight Watchers, the gorilla of the group, generates some $350 million in revenue with its online diet programs alone.
Today, we spend $200 billion a year on mental health and it's rising. According to a study published in Health Affairs, and written up nicely by Psychiatric News, spending on mental health was the costliest of all medical spend in 2013, topping heart conditions, cancer and trauma. This compared to being the second costliest in 1996, behind heart conditions. The rise in mental health costs isn't due to more people with dementia and Alzheimer's. But to a rise in anxiety and depression, according to Charles Roehrig, Ph.D., author of the study and founding director of Michigan-based Center for Sustainable Health Spending at Altarum Institute. Spending on mental health went up 7 percent from '96-'03 vs up 2 percent for heart conditions in the same period.
Now entrepreneurs and investors are firing up new startups to address mental health. Overall digital health investments have seen an average of $1.4 billion in investments quarterly between Q1 2017 and Q1 2019, according to Rock Health. Based on Pitchbook data, some $500 million has gone into digital tools for mental health in 2018 and 2017.
So it does seem that even if we don't "need" tech to be grateful, we sure could use tech to encourage us to be more grateful. A relative wanted to write a book about losing weight. Her husband, a doctor, said he could write the book in one sentence: Consume fewer calories than you expend.
And yet - we spend $66 billion a year on getting that right.
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