How Digital Solutions Can Play a Role in Mental Health Care

10 Oct, 2023

An Interview with Labfront and YourPrevention CEOs on the Importance of Prioritising Mental Health

It’s common knowledge that mental health is vital, and the topic holds relevance for the majority of us throughout our lives. Recognising the rising importance in recent years has sparked a surge in research projects worldwide. Garmin has played a role in many of these projects by leveraging the data and insights of smartwatches and fitness trackers alongside the Garmin Health Connected Ecosystem.

In light of the substantial efforts made worldwide to raise awareness about mental health, we have invited Florian Wolf and Chris Peng, longstanding collaborators with Garmin Health, to join us for an interview. During our conversation, they talk about how they’re harnessing Garmin technology in their mental health projects and explore the potential of digital health solutions in enhancing mental health care.

How are YourPrevention and Labfront contributing to the mental health conversation?

Florian Wolf is the CEO and co-founder of YourPrevention™, one of the leading, science-based experts in preventive and holistic health solutions. YourPrevention focuses on the development of prevention and stress management programmes that aim to sustainably reduce the risk of mental and stress-related illnesses by taking on a bio-psycho-social perspective.

Chris Peng is co-founder and CEO of Labfront, a global start-up specialising in health data analytics. Labfront helps academic researchers to automate their research workflows and analysis. Read about researchers using Garmin technology and the Labfront platform here.

What does mental health mean in your context? And why is mental health as important as physical health?

Peng (Labfront): According to the WHO, “mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. It is an integral component of health.”

When it comes to assessing the importance of mental versus physical health, it is clear that they are inextricably intertwined, making up the core pillars of our health. They are also co-dependent, with complex bidirectional interactions between the mind and body. The emotional and psychological state of a person can affect his/her physical state through autonomic nervous, hormonal and immune functions. Conversely, physical health status and disorders can impact neurotransmitter balance, brain structure and mental resilience. Dysfunction in one area can lead to dysfunction in the other. In the end, one cannot be truly healthy without both.

What happens if mental health issues are ignored or remain untreated for too long?

Wolf (YourPrevention): Continuous stress can trap individuals in a harmful cycle. This is due to a neurobiological response: heightened stress leads to autopilot behaviour, reducing conscious decision-making. For instance, plans for self-improvement can falter in the face of ongoing stress. Succumbing to autopilot amplifies symptoms, influencing our outlook and potentially resulting in conditions like depression, anxiety or burnout. These issues can persist, delaying recovery and affecting both individuals and industries, as returning to normalcy takes far longer than the time it took for the issues to develop.

How can data collected via Garmin smartwatches and the Connected Ecosystem be used to address issues associated with mental health?

Peng (Labfront): As opposed to physical health, mental health is not as easy to physically see or measure. Thus, it is often overlooked. Data collected from Garmin watches, such as beat-to-beat interval (BBI), can be used to approximate and measure many states of mental health. Heart rate variability, for example, is derived from BBI and has been shown to be a useful indicator of stress and stress response.

Because mental health and physical health are inextricably intertwined, it is also important to measure physical health or physical health habits to provide context when measuring mental health. Garmin smartwatches measuring activity and intensity can create an accurate physical activity lifestyle profile, and they can even be used to measure sleep.

How are Labfront and YourPrevention using Garmin in their respective mental health projects? Which Garmin metrics and parts of the Garmin Health Connected Ecosystem are being utilised?

Peng (Labfront): Labfront makes collecting and utilising data to measure mental health extremely easy. Labfront’s algorithms can turn heart rate data from enhanced BBI into stress measurements, such as heart rate variability, or sleep measurements, like sleep staging or apnea. Researchers measuring mental health or looking to create mental health interventions can easily use Garmin watches with Labfront to transform raw data into useful metrics.

Wolf (YourPrevention): Using Garmin metrics such as heart rate monitoringBody Battery™ energy monitoring and sleep tracking, YourPrevention has been able to create a trend to analyse how a person’s health is developing over days, weeks and months. This trend can be neutral, positive or even negative, with a negative trend indicating an increased risk for a decline in mental health. Paired with data gathered from questionnaires, we are able to build a holistic view of a person’s health that we can then use to support people in creating new habits and making the most effective changes.

How Garmin Supports Mental Health Research

Given the statistics, the benefits of the continuous drive for mental health research are clear. With so many factors determining our mental state, many still unknown, having a better understanding of the causes and warning signs could make a significant difference in getting the right help at the right time. Garmin is willing to support an increasing number of mental health research projects, including the collaboration with Labfront offering a Mental health research grant to researchers studying these uncharted territories of the mind. This grant offers five vívosmart® 5 fitness trackers and the Labfront Advanced Package to the awardees. Ultimately, our combined goal is to champion mental health, push the boundaries of scientific discovery and potentially help to uplift the mental wellness of people everywhere.

Discover how Garmin Health and the Connected Ecosystem could aid your research project. Alternatively, you can learn more about studies including Garmin devices on our Garmin Health Third-party Studies Overview page.

Garmin devices are not designed or intended to monitor or diagnose diseases or any medical conditions. Find information on metric accuracy here.