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Are Mental Health Apps the New Generation of Self-Help Books?
Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Thu, May 17th 2012
Before I write any further, I should offer this disclaimer: I do not own a smartphone. I have a very old, simple cell phone that makes phone calls, texts, and takes rudimentary pictures. But that's it. Other than wreaking havoc on my husband's smartphone when we're in the car and trying to find a good sushi place nearby, I have very little experience in the über-tech realm.
Yet I've become fascinated lately by the number of mental health apps available to us. These apps claim to help us track our moods, improve our outlook, and apply therapeutic principles to our daily lives while waiting in line at Starbucks or during our morning commute.
Here are a couple of examples:
Mood Swing - This app allows you to record your mood by choosing the image that most closely captures how you are feeling at that moment. Not only can you track your mood over time and look for patterns; you can also post your current mood on Facebook or Twitter.
Mood Kit - Developed by two clinical psychologists, this app offers mood-improvement activities, ways to identify negative thinking patterns, methods to track mood changes, and a journal. Like Mood Swing, you can share your mood-enhancing activities with your social network.
Mood Panda - I'm starting to see that people want to share their personal mental health statuses with the world. This app offers sharing capabilities on Facebook and Twitter like the others. It also allows you to track your moods and view them in graphs and charts over days, weeks, or months. Like Mood Kit, it also includes a diary.
Unfortunately, there's not a lot of data measuring whether or not these apps are clinically helpful. Instead, it might be more worthwhile to consider the theory behind an app and whether it is scientifically based. For instance, cognitive-behavioral therapy is a sound approach with a great deal of research supporting its effectiveness. If an app claims to be based on cognitive-behavioral principles, this is probably a safer bet than an app suggesting it can measure your mood (or even improve it) by scanning your finger.
When considered in the context of technology and progress, mental health apps are probably not much different from online support groups or self-help books (which we can now read on our smartphones, Kindles, and Nooks). And just like other self-help tools, they are not a substitute for therapy with a trained professional, which may be more appropriate in certain situations.
Yet there's something strange and almost eerie about attending to our emotional well-being alongside syncing email, talking to Siri, and playing Angry Birds (see, I know a few things about smartphones even though I don't own one).
What are your thoughts about mental health apps? If you've tried them, what have your experiences been like? If you haven't tried them, why not?
I'm truly flummoxed as to how I feel about mental health apps. Maybe I need an app to help me come to a conclusion.