Depressed? There’s an app for that
By Alexia Underwood and Stephanie Whiteside
While popular wisdom holds that depression, anxiety and other mental illness can be exacerbated by technology use, there’s a fair amount of buzz about ways that technology can actually help people with debilitating mental disorders. Rather than viewing technology as a method of isolation, these apps turn a smart phone into a tool to help people navigate through the world. AJ+ takes a look at some of the newest options out there.
Panic attacks can make it hard to breathe — literally. Flowy is an app and a self-described “game to combat panic attacks.” It uses a technique called
“breathing retraining” and is aimed at people suffering from panic disorders, social anxiety disorder and general anxiety disorder. It pairs a relaxed, fun game of a ship sailing through water with a cloud, to simulate natural breathing.
Emergency Chat is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s a new Android app designed to help people having an anxiety attack, an asthma attack or another similar issue which leaves them incapable of expressing their problem verbally. Users can press a button and hand their phone to a family member, friend or acquaintance to get immediate help. Emergency Chat can be customized for your specific needs and is also available on iOS.
SuperBetter markets itself as a method to build personal resilience, and, among other things, says it’s useful for people dealing with depression, anxiety, chronic illness or pain, or recovering from PTSD. According to two clinical studies, using the SuperBetter app for 30 days reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety and improves mood.
The app asks you to make simple choices between two actions, like shaking someone’s hand for 6 seconds, or sending someone a quick thank you email or text. You can also tailor the app by setting up specific “quests” to get closer to your “epic win,” or life goal.
Happify’s website claims their app will “fit into your life, and transform it.”
It’s like Spotify for depression. Once you answer a few questions, Happify recommends a track to get you started. Then the simple games make you focus on positive words, or reflection exercises, like choosing three happy moments in your day and describing them. Some of the more popular tracks, like one called “Make your love last, the science of happy marriages,” require a subscription, or monthly plan.
While there’s not enough data yet on whether these new-fangled measures will make a difference in how mental illness is recognized, diagnosed and treated, having quicker access to health services is undoubtedly a good thing. Unlike a therapist, an app is available at a moment’s notice, wherever you happen to be. No technology is going to fix your depression, your anxiety or your life, but it may make dealing with the struggles of day-to-day life a little easier.