AbilityNet Factsheet - November 2021

Mental Health and Computing

One in 4 people experience mental health issues of some kind in England each year, and 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England.

This factsheet covers how assistive technology can help people with their mental health. It’s not a fix, but Assistive Technology (AT) and apps (free and paid-for) can form part of a holistic approach to gaining support. 

Last updated: November 2021

1. Understanding mental health

One in 4 people experience mental health issues of some kind in England each year, and 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England.

This factsheet covers how assistive technology can help people with their mental health. It’s not a fix, but Assistive Technology (AT) and apps (free and paid-for) can form part of a holistic approach to gaining support. 

The way mental health difficulties affect people can vary widely in how they manifest themselves. We’ll cover some of the more common areas that impact day-to-day activities. People affected by mental health difficulties may experience:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Feeling tearful
  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of confidence
  • Worry

In more severe cases of mental health difficulties, people may self-harm or have suicidal thoughts. It’s essential in these cases to seek support as soon as possible.

For details of where to find urgent help, visit the NHS website or dial 999

2. How can technology help those with mental health difficulties?

Technology alone isn’t a fix for all aspects of mental health difficulties, and the first people to approach should always be medical professionals. However, technology can help manage aspects of the challenges you experience, including:

Organisation

Using to-do list apps helps to organise thoughts and tasks that you need to complete. By adding this to an app rather than on paper, you can set helpful reminders.

Calendar apps work similarly by providing reminders and ensuring these are available across devices. Most common platforms have their versions of calendars (Google, Microsoft, Apple). You can connect these to email platforms, so appointments, flight times, and other important information appear in your calendar.

A helpful feature is to use voice commands to add tasks for reminders. For example, Apple has a feature called Reminders, and you can use voice commands to add these. Smart devices allow you to set a quick voice command and receive an audible reminder later.

For more detailed work, mind mapping software is helpful to break larger tasks down into more manageable chunks.


Focus

Text-to-speech solutions can help with processing information and aid focus.

Text-to-speech allows the use of reading and listening together. Microsoft Word, for example, has a Read Aloud feature, which reads text to you. Access this from the Microsoft Ribbon. There are also free ‘read aloud’ extensions you can add to your computer’s browser, in-built solutions on smartphones, and free and paid-for apps and software. It’s a great way for spotting typos, and grammatical glitches, too. 

You’ll find apps in the Google Play Store or Apple App Store and extensions in your preferred browser’s web store). A range of solutions is available, but Read Aloud is a popular solution in the Chrome Web Store with over 4 million users.


Mood

Mindfulness apps provide a quick and easy way to try meditation and mindfulness.

Mindfulness encourages you to try and pay more attention to the present moment, to your thoughts and feelings, and the world around you, which can help improve mental wellbeing.

Most popular music streaming services have playlists with music to help with focus, to help with feeling calm. These can vary from instrumental music to different sound effects such as weather noises or white noise.


Motivation

The Tomato Timer with a clock for 25 minutes displayed on screenThere are tools to help break tasks into chunks. If you’re struggling with motivation, it can help to break larger tasks into more manageable pieces. The Pomodoro Technique is a method used for time management that uses a timer to break work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.

Clockwork Tomato is an app that can guide you through this, or for an online version, use Tomato Timer.  

If the tasks aren’t time-sensitive, then breaking them down into smaller tasks will still help and using to-do list apps helps to see these in front of you. These can help reduce feeling overwhelmed as they can help ‘unravel’ the tasks you need to complete.

3. How can employers and education providers help with MH?

Under the Equality Act, employers and education providers must ensure that disabled employees and students perform effectively.

You are disabled under the act if you have an impairment with a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

To meet the Equality Act requirements, employers and education providers may need to make ‘reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled people enjoy equal access to perform successfully in their chosen career or course.

Any adjustments required do not necessarily need to cost a lot of money. What may be reasonable would depend, among other factors, on the size and nature of the organisation but could include:

  • introducing some changes to work organisation/deadlines
  • providing personal training and support
  • making use of relevant assistive technologies.

Given the prevalence of mental health difficulties, making reasonable adjustments in your workforce could help to increase productivity through improved staff motivation, loyalty, and efficiency, along with reduced stress, sick leave, and staff turnover.

From an education provider standpoint, making reasonable adjustments could improve student engagement, retention, and outcomes.

Without appropriate help and support, mental health difficulties can prevent individuals from gaining qualifications, accessing training, or applying for promotions. Furthermore, employers or education providers who fail to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people are vulnerable to discrimination claims under the Equality Act.

4. Useful contacts

If you don’t have a diagnosis of a mental health difficulty but feel you’ve been struggling with your mental health, speak to your GP, first of all, to discuss how you’re feeling. They can refer you to relevant services and treatment.

5. How AbilityNet can help you

My Computer My Way

My Computer My Way is an AbilityNet run website packed with articles explaining how to use the accessibility features built into your computer, tablet, or smartphone. We update the site as new features and changes occur to the Windows, MacOS, iOS, Chrome OS, and Android operating systems. The site has four sections:

  • Vision: computer adjustments to do with vision and colour
  • Hearing: computer adjustments to do with hearing, communication, and speech
  • Motor: computer adjustments to do mobility, stamina, and dexterity
  • Cognitive: computer adjustments to do with attention, learning and memory
Use it for free at mcmw.abilitynet.org.uk


Advice and information

If you have any questions please contact us at AbilityNet and we will do all we can to help.

IT support at Home

If you’re looking for in-person support, you can book a free visit from one of our disclosure-checked volunteers. Many of our volunteers are former IT professionals who give their time to help older people and people with disabilities to use technology to achieve their goals. Our friendly volunteers can help with most major computer systems, laptops, tablet devices and smartphones.

https://abilitynet.org.uk/at-home

Copyright information

This factsheet is licensed by AbilityNet under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. View a copy of this license at creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/

Was this content helpful?