App appeal: Smartphones can shape your mental health too

Smartphones are often blamed for unhealthy lifestyle habits. However, if used in a proper way, it also helps the users improve their fitness and health while performing its other regular functions. In fact, it seems as though there is an app for every aspect of physical wellness nowadays.

Fitness buffs use these apps on their smartphones to keep track of their steps taken, crunches, calories burnt and even the goals accomplished on a day-to-day basis. Now that physical health has been thoroughly taken care of, researchers are focusing on approaching mental health through app-based technology.

Although the majority of mental health apps are yet to be tested, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have collected compelling data for Mood 24/7, their mental health app. When using Mood 24/7, the user accesses a secure site and chooses a daily time to receive a text that asks for a mood scale rating from 1 to 10. Text message responses and optional notes are added to a personal mood chart to share with a doctor or family member.

Monitoring moods makes a patient aware of any changes in mental health, motivating a person to recognize the condition and ask for help when necessary.

In 2013, a study carried out in Australia at the University of New South Wales studied five apps that incorporated cognitive behavioral therapy methods and found convincing results that stress, substance abuse and depression had been reduced by the use of apps.

The technology helps patients stay on track and is particularly useful when their therapist may not be available. Adult men and teens are more reluctant to seek therapy and for those groups mental health apps work well. Treatment for mental illness unfortunately still bears a stigma and using an app may seem “hip” and less intimidating.

There are an astonishing 3,000 apps available under the mental health grouping of Apple App Store and Google Play. Headspace, inaugurated in 2012, has 3 million devotees.

The Joyable app pledges to diminish social anxiety. With a monthly cost of $99, each Joyable client is assigned a coach. Clients begin with a 30-minute phone conversation, followed by a weekly check-in by phone, text or email. The app teaches the user the causes of anxiety and how to eliminate those, the identification of thoughts that promote anxiety and how to change those thoughts, plus real life activities to help a client learn to face their fears and achieve the life they aspire to live.

Joyable coaches are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy methods but are not licensed therapists. Joyable claims that 90 percent of their users achieve a 30 percent reduction in social anxiety after three months using the app. The reduction in anxiety is tracked by measuring the users social phobia inventory (SPIN), which is a legitimate method for assessing a person’s anxiety level. Joyable users take the SPIN survey in the beginning and repeat it periodically to document progress. The program lasts an average of three months.

Jennifer Montgomery, a clinical social worker at the University of Michigan, is heading research on an app named Priori that is intended for use by bipolar patients. Priori records a client’s phone calls and analyzes speech patterns, specifically the cadence and tone. The app then connects any changes to a depressive, stable or manic mood, alerting the client if a mood change is detected.

Advances in the treatment of mental illness are happening at a rapid pace. Treatment for depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder can change a person’s life for the better. For further information about treatment, please call the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline at 855-653-8178.