How might we reduce the stigma associated mental health, which underpins global health and trauma recovery?
How might we use technology to personalize services to support people, whether they are veterans, foster-care kids, returning citizens, or an elder living alone?
These are two of the questions that I recently discussed with Paul Dommel, IBM’s Global Director for Public Service and Civilian Government, whose portfolio intersects with health and human services all over the world. The pandemic and other traumatic events have driven them to dig even deeper into how to support vulnerable populations.
In a pilot program with the Veterans Administration (VA), IBM explored what is most likely to trigger stress among veterans transitioning to civilian life, a population that is, unfortunately, more likely to be living with post-traumatic stress disorder. Their research found that veterans were more likely to be successful if they felt more confident about finding a job. IBM focused their efforts on creating an app that, for example, uses someone’s military occupation code, location, and other job experience to scour a job database and return personalized results and a daily to-do list. In the pilot alone, 14% of veterans found jobs through the app. Others used an “anytime, anywhere” link to the VA crisis hotline to get help.
Dommel pointed out that the lessons learned in the VA program parallel the work that IBM is doing to help Sonoma County create a 360-degree, personalized safety net for vulnerable residents. Parole, unemployment, housing, and mental health services all intersect around a single person, sometimes in a confusing and uncoordinated way. As Dommel said, “We put our most vulnerable people in a position where they have to figure everything out and it’s not feasible. It’s not possible.” IBM is helping the county government knit together what they know about their residents and the programs that can support them, creating a data-driven platform that is already seeing results.
Another aspect of IBM’s work with veterans was particularly intriguing to me: a peer-to-peer network to support emotional well-being. Veterans opt-in to a monitoring system on their phone that tracks usage. Then they name the people who will be contacted if their usage patterns start to indicate distress or depression. The system sends an alert to that friend or loved one, asking them to check in on the veteran, again creating a personalized safety net for an individual, powered by technology.
Just as the lessons learned tracking cargo shipping containers were deployed to track vaccine, IBM is taking lessons learned from one vulnerable population to create services for another. And they are not only creating those services for clients, but on a volunteer basis, as well.
After an explosion rocked the port of Beirut, a group of IBMers saw an opportunity to quickly build a resource for people to offer – and find – help. They launched the Lebanon Relief Network, connecting people on the ground and those who are part of the Lebanese diaspora to professionals, to volunteers, and to each other. This volunteer, open source initiative is another example of how IBM is finding ways to use technology to serve people.
Learn more about how IBM is using technology and data to improve access to mental health resources. And please let me know if this post sparks questions or ideas for you. Comments are open.
Image: Safety net, by Infinite Ache on Flickr.