Empathear scarf app Cropped

How wearable tech, a smartphone app and the Internet are assisting mental health in New Zealand

At Gigatown this month we’re exploring how the Internet and ultra-fast broadband over fibre can enable the development of services, products and apps that help to improve our health and wellbeing.

This week, we welcome GigaNews guest blogger, Sarah Mokhtar. Sarah, a Master’s degree student in design innovation at Victoria University, has designed a programme called Empathear to assist the families of people with schizophrenia. The Empathear programme works through a downloadable app and a wearable technology scarf which transmits data gained from the device back to a server.

SARAH: For many of us, the symptoms of mental illness are a scary unknown. People with schizophrenia can often hear voices when they experience psychosis and many of us are oblivious to how this affects the everyday lives of those living with this illness.  Sadly, we often only see the illness and not the person behind it. In developing the Empathear app, I wanted to provide the general public with a more in-depth understanding of their own reaction to a common symptom of mental illness – hearing voices.

The beauty of Empathear is that it interacts with the user and the environment to deliver a multi-dimensional insight into what it’s like for people with mental illness who hear voices.By using the app, you can experience a real taste of how your personality can be affected by this adversity.

‘Empathear’ is essentially a simulation of auditory hallucinations or ‘voices’. It provides loved ones of voice hearers an opportunity to experience their own reaction to hearing voices, so they can ultimately increase their empathy and understanding of what it’s like to live with voices. The app works best in social situations to help people to understand how challenging even the smallest social interaction can become when contending with voices.

Through the Empathear app and wearable technology scarf you can choose what personality and gender your voices have. The app uses the microphones in your tablet or smartphone device to gauge your surroundings. The louder your environment, the louder and more distressing the voices appear.

Via the Internet, Empathear also gives you the option to provide feedback on your experience. Feedback data is sent through to a New Zealand-based mental health support group, Supporting Families in Mental Illness (SFMI).  This data can then be used by SFMI to tailor help and support for individuals with mental illness and their family members.

My hope is that Empathear will become a well-known resource for family members struggling to understand what is happening to their loved one. I also hope that it will become a valuable resource for clinicians who have day-to-day interactions with those who hear voices, and for those studying medicine.

To find out more about Empathear click here

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