While the month of May is over (and we’re sorry for the radio silence, really – we were a bit focused on orientation [WELCOME, Class of 2018!]) we’d like draw attention to the fact that May is National Mental Health Awareness Month here in the United States.
Technology has changed so much of our approach to daily life that it’s no surprise that it’s also altered our approach to mental illness. Beyond the use of MRI technology as a diagnostic technique and increased ability to reach rural areas using telecommunications to compensate for a lack of local psychiatrists, more resources are becoming available through a resource owned by 58% of Americans: a smartphone.
One of the unique features that smartphones offer to their owners is the ability to load and use a variety of apps at no- or low-cost. The average American has more than 32 apps loaded on their smartphone. Organizations that are interested in promoting better mental health have taken steps to make assistance available in this new, common resource.
When exploring this new world of resources, it is important to remember that not all apps in app stores are designed by experts! The three apps we outline below were created by professionals, research entities, or doctors. Keep in mind that they aren’t FDA approved and more importantly that the same tools don’t work for everyone!
SAM is a Self-Help Anxiety Management app, developed via a collaboration between the Department of Computer Science and Creative Technologies and the Psychology Department in Health and Life Sciences at the University of West England at Bristol. Using the app allows each user to create and assess their own anxiety profile: how frequently they feel anxious or panicked, what triggers their anxiety, and any patterns they follow in the rise and fall of their anxiety. It also helps users create an ‘anxiety toolkit’ by walking them through coping mechanisms and then storing information on the activities that work for them individually. They have the option of sharing suggestions or drawing support from the anonymous social cloud the app provides. SAM will be available for both Android and iOS by this summer. Con: Because SAM was created in the UK, the links to external support are UK-specific.
PTSD Coach is an app created by the VA’s National Center for PTSD in partnership with the Department of Defense’s National Center for Telehealth Technology. As with every app discussed herein, the PTSD Coach is not designed to replace professional evaluation of the user’s specific symptoms and needs. Instead, it provides reliable information to users about what PTSD is, how its symptoms might present, and what treatments have worked for other users. It provides tools for self-screening and assessment to keep track of the progression of a user’s symptoms, and like SAM it offers easy-to-use and convenient tools to help users deal with stress symptoms in the immediate moment. It also allows users to add contact information for their private support systems, whether that consists of a personal psychiatrist or a supportive friend or relative. It is available for both iOS and Android phones. Cons: Developed in the US, its built-in links to support groups are to US-specific resources.
A-CHESS is an app with a long acronym for a title. It stands for the Addiction – Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System. Created by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it is a system designed to identify a user’s habits and stresses in order to help them prevent a relapse into their addictive habits. It provides intervention resources for users and forums to provide support and request assistance, in addition to immediate activity recommendations to interrupt the cycle of temptation and relapse. Additionally, the system permits clinicians to review weekly surveys completed by their patients, helping them to identify trouble signs and to better intervene when a patient needs additional support. A recent study focusing specifically on alcoholics using the app found that it had a significant effect on the success of a user to reduce the quantity of drinks they imbibed. Cons: A-CHESS is not yet available to iOS systems.