Smartphones are increasingly popular. Nearly 60 percent of the population in the United States owns one, according to data reported by Pew Research Center. Depression is also becoming more common. According to the World Health Organization, it’s the third greatest “disease burden” worldwide, just behind lower respiratory infections and diarrheal diseases. It is expected to rise to No. 1 in developed countries by 2030.
Depression, like many mental health disorders, affects individuals worldwide. Most people who struggle with depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse or any other mental health disease do not seek help because they often lack the means and the information to do so. This is where technology comes into play.
Nearly half of all adult cell phone users have apps on their phones. From banking and bill pay to exercise and fitness, and even cooking and news, a variety of apps exist to make daily tasks easier. Mental health apps are popular among those seeking help for their disorder and for providers to ease their patient workflow. Well-designed apps that are free or cost a small fraction have the potential to reach millions of people, who either cannot or will not engage with more traditional therapy, and can save their lives.
“Just four hours after the PTSD Coach app was released to the public, a distressed veteran called the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ crisis line because, he said, ‘My phone told me to call.’ The call led to an appointment, and the next day, the vet received mental health care at his local VA,” according to an article released by the American Psychological Association. These helpful technology tools can also be used by providers.
Below are some very helpful apps for people who are recovering from an addiction or who have a mental health disorder.
A free intervention tool that helps people who are having suicidal thoughts and ideations to reassess their thoughts and get help, this app was invented by the U.S. Army and is user friendly to anyone who is depressed or in danger of harming themselves. If, for example, a user reports his mood is dipping into a risky zone, a pop-up message offers such suggestions as calling a health care provider, using deep breathing exercises or following directions to the nearest place to get help.
This app provides a set of tools to help individuals evaluate their stress and anxiety level, and learn relaxation tips. The relaxation techniques have been scientifically validated in research on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). For stressed out individuals who need tips to manage their stress levels, this app might be able to help.
What if a patient has just left a rehab center and needs to know whether their body is experiencing some of the withdrawal signs that come along with getting clean and sober? The brainy folks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have an app for that. The patient wears a wristband that measures body motion, heart rate, skin temperature and electrical activity. The wristband connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth, where an Android app analyzes the data. If the app detects a spike in stress or arousal level, the app sounds an alarm and asks the users to input their perceived stress level, current activities and any drug cravings. Because stress has often been associated with triggering a recovering addict’s urge to use, the information provided by iHeal can warn the wearers that they are entering their “danger zone” and need to make the appropriate adjustments to their situation.
There are many 12-step-based apps out there. “Twelve Steps – The Companion” hits the sweet spot of being both very comprehensive and fun to use. It was also one of the first recovery apps available and has been updated several times.
The first thing the user will notice is the homepage, where the recovering addict’s sobriety stats are displayed in years, months, days and hours. In the “one day at a time” world of 12-step recovery, it can be a fun and uplifting moment to know that day 1,000 has arrived, for instance.
Additionally, the entire “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous is included in the app, which can be very handy to traveling alcoholics in recovery who can’t carry a book everywhere they go. Many other accompanying staples of AA are included, such as the meeting preamble, the 12 steps and 12 traditions and the AA promises.
Adam Alban, Ph.D., J.D., created Insight Notes to give fee-for-service psychologists a note-taking and recordkeeping option that also meets HIPAA requirements for encrypted data while cutting down on large practice management solutions. The program, which Alban created with a team of attorneys, designers and app developers, allows psychologists to take notes and scan images that are organized by patient and is automatically backed up. Providers can then send these files securely in batches, rather than piecemeal. Users can also include their signatures and letterhead on any documents they choose.
When someone who has attempted suicide winds up in the emergency room, the news is mostly good; he or she has failed at the attempt and is receiving care. But once discharged, the patient is at risk again. Seeking to improve the coordination of follow-up care and to keep patients closely connected to help, a team led by American Psychological Association President Nadine J. Kaslow, Ph.D., of Emory University, developed ReliefLink. This app includes such features as a mood tracker, a personalized safety plan, coping strategies and an emergency button that connects users to friends, hospitals and other resources.
Written by Kristen Fuller, M.D., Sovereign Health Group writer