Dr. Thomas Insel has worked as the director of the National Institute of Mental Health for 13 years, and now he’s taking a new job at Google.
Insel said he thinks technology can assist people suffering from mental illness in the same way it has helped people with their physical health, Fusion reports. While at Google, Insel said he imagines developing sensors that can objectively track your mood the same wearables currently track your steps.
“We do that already for how many steps you’ve had and your activity,” he said in an interview at Chicago Ideas Week, pointing to the Fitbit strapped to his wrist, “but this would be doing it for mood, for cognition, for anxiety. It’s really actually very doable.”
Technology could also be used to treat mental health by putting people in touch with the appropriate resources. In the interview, Insel referred to the Big White Wall, a startup in the United Kingdom, where people can anonymously post their mental health concerns, take clinical tests online, and video chat with professionals.
“Giving that treatment online is as effective as face-to-face treatment, and in some cases better, because there are so many people with these disorders who will not come in for treatment,” he said.
As director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Insel prioritised funding for research into severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia. Insel referred to America’s current system of treating mental illness as “dysfunctional.”
Insel’s exact job description isn’t exactly clear yet, but he will lead Google’s Life Sciences division under Alphabet. He said the job offer was one he “couldn’t refuse” and that he sees a lot of potential in using Google Analytics to conduct new mental health research.
“I don’t know what I’m going to be doing, and I think they don’t either,” he said. “They’re an amazingly secretive company.”
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