“A Social Network Designed to Combat Depression”

“Starting with the desired effect of helping people deal with depression, he developed Panoply, a crowdsourced website for improving mental health. The site, which was the focus of his doctoral thesis at MIT Media Lab, trained users to reframe and reassess negative thoughts, embedding an established technique called cognitive behavioral therapy in an engaging, unthreatening interface. After a study confirmed the site’s effectiveness, Morris formed a company and is now working on turning the idea into a polished consumer app…
If you’ve ever reassured a recently-dumped friend that there are plenty of fish in the sea, you’ve practiced a simple form of cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT is the blanket term for a number of techniques that help people identify negative thoughts and see them more objectively, a process often referred to as “reappraisal.” As Morris puts it, “It’s really about trying to readjust your thinking to bring better health.”
Panoply was cleverly designed to help people internalize this skill. The site, which Morris built with a clinical psychologist from Northwestern University, invited anonymized users to describe a situation that was upsetting them. For example: “My roommate just came home, and I said ‘Hi,’ but he walked right by without looking at me.” The app would then ask that user to write out interpretations of this event. They might say, “I don’t think my roommate has ever liked me. I’m not popular. I’m not cool enough.”
Posts like these triggered a three-tiered wave of crowdsourced action. The first person or two simply came by to lend support and sympathy (for his thesis study, Morris trained a group of workers from Mechanical Turk to pad the user base). A second wave read the entry and labeled specific places where the poster was distorting reality or thinking illogically. Then, a third group came and completely rewrote the initial story, casting the events in a less dire light. The system produced crowd-generated reappraisal unique to every dark thought. A professor of psychology from Stanford told MIT he thinks it’s a “promising approach.”

Related: “Social Dynamics in Online Cancer Support Groups

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