Why We Need A Mental Health Technology Conference

Jamund Ferguson
3 min readJun 1, 2018


AnxietyTech is a new conference I’m organizing to discuss cutting edge technology and mental health. Everyone working in tech needs to attend! This is absolutely the time to have these discussions and build the community that’s going to end up making such a big difference for so many people’s lives.

The first tech conference I attended was JSConf/NodeConf 2011 in Portland, Oregon. It introduced me to a whole community of talented and interesting people. I remember seeing Dan Shaw on the light rail leaving the airport, being awestruck meeting Thomas Fuchs (of Zepto.js fame) at the arcade after-party, meeting Paolo Fragomeni and Charlie Robbins from the NodeJitsu team and later substack and so many others. I was inspired watching Chris Williams at NodeConf publicly challenge Ryan Dahl about giving node.js ownership to Joyent instead of to a foundation.

As the JavaScript community got bigger, so did the size and number of conferences. Each time that the larger conferences seemed to lose that special sense of purpose, a smaller, more focused conference (ReactRally anyone!?) seemed to come and fill that niche. Despite being nerds supposedly only interested in computers, we’re still all searching for community.

For the last few years, my wife Kari has been dealing with a mental illness which at times has been unnoticeable and at other times completely destabilizing for our family of 4. It’s called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and, despite what you’ve heard, it’s not helpful or fun or convenient. It’s mostly really annoying for her and all of us. However, as she’s gone through therapy and gotten help for her condition, Kari has become more vocal in her efforts to raise awareness about mental health. It’s become her passion. She started a blog about her struggle and written a book as well.

As we’ve attended events and conferences in this space we noticed one area that was almost completely lacking: technology. It seems as though many of the professionals in the mental health space are unaware and sometimes even skeptical of the potential that modern technology has to transform treatment for mental health. Obviously, there are evidence-based techniques that work really well for dealing with anxiety and OCD in particular (CBT, ERP, etc). But it’s still way too hard to get treatment, and so many people are being left behind.

Tech workers watch every day as new technology transforms the way we communicate, interact, buy, sell and work with one another. These changes cannot come fast enough to mental health care. It’s too easy for many to go for years, suffering, undiagnosed. And when you finally get the courage to seek help, there is often a struggle for months or years to find a health care professional who can help.

With so many rapid innovations happening in VR, AR, AI, mobile, web and other tech, I am convinced that if we put the weight of the tech community behind this effort, we can make massive improvements in mental health for everyone. Just as JSConf was formative for so many in the JavaScript community, I hope AnxietyTech, a new conference we are planning, will do the same for mental health in tech.

We’ve put together a diverse lineup of speakers including: Jessica DiVento, Psy.D. who leads mental health efforts at Google, Amber Case, who will be talking about how technology seems to inevitably lead to more anxiety and if it needs to be that way, Skip Rizzo, who is a pioneer in virtual reality treatments for mental illness and will be showing the latest in his field, Pamela Fox, who will be showcasing how to use technology to fight back against the ever-oppressive “timeline” which never stops trying to lure us in, Shemika Lamare, who will address burnout in the workplace, and April Wensel on cultivating compassionate communities. Others will be sharing success stories from their mental health tech startups or how they’re dealing with mental illness at work on a daily basis.

Developers, designers, and creatives of all kinds: please join us for AnxietyTech on July 18, 2018 at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre in San Francisco, CA. We are bringing together some fantastic people to discuss mental health and technology. Together we can build a better future for mental health for everyone.