The Mental Health App Easing Symptoms of Anxiety, Depression, and More
We are in the dead of winter, that time of year when our moods are low and our motivation for, well, anything, begins to decline. If you can relate, you are far from alone. Many Americans are experiencing “mental difficulties” right now, including stress, anxiety, and depression — symptoms exacerbated by the colder months. Thankfully, mental health platforms like Woebot Health are helping us manage common feelings of despair that interfere with our quality of life.
Woebot Health, a digital mental health company with the clever slogan, “The mind is always on — mental health care should be too,” seeks to improve people’s mental health through its expert technology and thoughtful research.
According to a recent survey of 1,269 adults conducted by Woebot, 76% of Americans are “motivated to improve their mental health,” while only 30% have actually sought professional help.
One reason why may be obvious — therapy is expensive. But the other reason isn’t so black and white — many people don’t feel their health is “bad enough” to seek professional help, an idea negatively reinforced by the stigma that mental health care is something only people with mental illness need.
As a mental health researcher and advocate myself, I have spoken with dozens of mental health professionals on why mental wellness is critical for everyone to take care of, and the message received is clear — you don’t have to reach a point of hopelessness before asking for help. Mental health work is equally as important as physical health, and it’s about time people treated it as such.
What is Woebot Health?
Woebot Health’s digital platform supports anyone’s mental health with its easy-to-use app. Basically, a robot is transformed into your supportive friend/techy therapist, and is there for you whenever you need to talk. No appointments necessary. And no judgment.
Woebot is powered by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a form of psychological treatment that aims to reduce symptoms of common mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug use problems, and eating disorders.
President and Founder of Woebot Health, Dr. Alison Darcy, clinical research psychologist with over 20 years of experience building health technology, spoke with me on how Woebot’s new technology is making mental healthcare more accessible for those who want and need it most.
“I fell in love with the new opportunities that tech affords,” Dr. Darcy said. “That people can come together without physically showing up,” her passion for mental health stemming from the “complex and dynamic nature of the human experience.”
The idea of Woebot came after Dr. Darcy helped a friend start a support group for people with eating disorders. While she loved the peer support model of the support group, “it was too difficult to sustain,” she tells me, “because people weren’t physically showing up.”
She saw the same pattern in traditional therapy, and when the pandemic hit, no one was going to their therapy appointments because they physically couldn’t.
Dr. Darcy explained that traditional therapy has “a big design problem,” stating there are a lot of hurdles for patients to go through, from doing their own research on finding the right therapist to being afraid of being vulnerable to a stranger.
“The most potent, active ingredient of therapy is identifying the negative thoughts and rewiring our very plastic brain,” Dr. Darcy told me. “Asking patients to do that between sessions for homework in traditional therapy didn’t make sense, because when you’re in distress, you can’t think clearly.”
So, she asked how she could take those same skills from the clinic and apply them to the digital space, and Woebot Health was born. Having the ability to meet people where they are emotionally, plus being able to respond to those moments of distress in real time, are what makes Woebot so attractive to users.
How Does it Work?
Available 24/7 via the Woebot app, a robot “listens, learns, and delivers,” cheering you on when things are going well, and guiding you in the right direction when things are tough.
The platform prides itself on CBT to help users, with demonstrated efficacy across populations and problems spouting from anxiety, depression, loneliness, and eating disorders like bulimia.
“A lot of people think CBT is about positive thinking,” Dr. Darcy said. “It’s not….it’s about removing the negative thoughts.”
“Distorted thinking is something all humans have,” Dr. Darcy assured me. “CBT is something all humans can benefit from. It will start with checking in with your mood, then will invite you to share what you want to work on for the week, like how to fight with your partner, for example.”
Who is Woebot For?
Woebot is for anyone who is feeling stuck, sad, or anxious. By addressing common topics like managing feelings of depression and anxiety, pandemic stress, substance abuse and navigating relationship issues, Woebot can help anyone who wants the help.
Dr. Darcy explains that with Woebot, “you’re teaching people a scientific method, helping people rewire the negative narrative that tends to be characteristic of people who are really struggling with their mental health.”
How To Cope With Common Mental Health Struggles
Dr. Darcy’s tip for coping with common mental health struggles like depression and anxiety is finding what works for you, and identifying the active ingredients that make you feel good, like being creative and understanding if you get your “charge” from being alone or with others.
“The thing is to find your thing,” she states. “Whether it’s getting out in nature, reading the paper instead of doom scrolling, or five minutes on the yoga mat, it’s a different format for everyone. Exercise, we know, is really helpful for example, but the trick is finding what’s useful for you.”
Dr. Darcy emphasized that therapy will always be important, but that there has to be easier ways that are more aligned with people’s modern lifestyles, which she is determined to continue perfecting with her company.
“The formula is really about daily maintenance habits,” she explained. “It’s the practical things like getting out of bed, showering, getting outside, getting five minutes with a friend, and making a mindful cup of tea. But you have to seek it out in order for it to work.”
Ashley is a freelance writer based in Connecticut specializing in mental health, wellness, and fashion. She believes our weirdness is what makes us great. Sign up for her newsletter for weekly insights on how to make mental health work fun.