Monday 21st January is considered by some to be the most depressing day of the year. Christmas has passed, the money spent and the cold weather lingers on. Has the New Year cheer really been so quickly forgotten? Can tech provide the antidote to the winter blues?
The term ‘Blue Monday’ was first coined in 2005 and usually falls on the third Monday of January. The calculation used to determine this day is based on pseudoscience and is largely disputed by experts as simply a gimmick, used by companies to sell summer holidays. However, the debate around Blue Monday provides us with an opportunity to talk about important issues that our teams and ourselves may be facing – stress, anxiety and depression.
Taking a holistic approach
The best treatment for these conditions requires a holistic approach; one that starts with professional medical advice, and includes diet, exercise, medication, counselling and healthy routines. The devices in our pocket can help users search for resources online and local support groups. But technology is going further, looking to address specific mental health issues and equip us with practical tools to manage symptoms. Some experts argue that technology is often a contributor to our mental health issues, so should we be looking to technology for support? Can our devices really help?
The role of technology continues to broaden
Technology is playing an increasingly important role in tackling some of the symptoms associated with stress, anxiety and depression. Mobile applications are particularly useful because users can access them wherever they are. They don’t have to rely on a particular facility or weekly group meeting to access helpful tools. They also provide a solution for people who cannot afford professional help, or those on waiting lists. Mobile applications should never replace professional support, but they do equip people for self-management of these conditions.
There’s no shame seeking help
Another plus point is that the apps are private and confidential. One of the barriers to people seeking help is feeling shame or embarrassment. This feeling is often internalized and not acknowledged, so having a tool people can access without the feelings of shame can only be a good thing.
The first apps in this field were released around 2009, focusing on mood and managing stress. Ten years on, here are just a few of the top mental health apps out there.
If you’re new to medication or find it difficult, this app can help. Headspace provides guided meditation which has shown to help when managing stress and anxiety. It can also assist in aiding sleep. There is a free basic course, or a full library of materials available via subscription.
SAM: Self-help for Anxiety Management
SAM is an app to help users understand and manage anxiety. The app has been developed in collaboration with a research team from UWE, Bristol. SAM helps users pinpoint what causes their anxiety, monitors their anxious thoughts and behaviour over time and manages anxiety through self-help exercises and private reflection.
What’s Up is a free app that uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) methods to help users cope with depression, anxiety, stress, and more. Users track positive and negative habits to maintain good habits, and break those that are counterproductive. The “Get Grounded” page contains over 100 different questions to pinpoint what you’re feeling.
Pacifica helps users find a place of peace via psychologist-designed tools. Based on CBT, mood and health tracking, relaxation and mindfulness meditation, the app targets the on-going cycles of negative thoughts that lead to anxiety, stress and depression. It also offers curated audio exercises to deploy if you are having a panic attack, are faced with a stressful moment at work, in a crowded place etc.
Recovery Record – Eating disorders
Recovery Record is the smart companion for managing the journey to recovery from eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, obsessive eating disorder, binge eating disorder and compulsive eating disorder. Using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and self-monitoring research, the app can help users record their meals, thoughts and feelings as well as create customised meal plans, recovery goals and coping tactics.
Although PTSD Coach was created with US military veterans in mind, it may be beneficial for anyone suffering from PTSD. It offers education and insights about the disorder itself as well information about professional care options (based in the US). Interactive elements include a self-assessment exam and coping tools such as positive self-talk and anger management exercises.
A more extensive list of 25 mobile apps that tackle a range of mental health issues can be found here. But ultimately, if you are feeling low or depressed, you can call NHS 111. Alternatively, The Samaritans have a 24-hour hotline (call 116 123).
Should we disconnect?
The sharp rise of screen time and social media are often blamed for our struggles with mental health, and it would be absolutely right to suggest that too long spent on our devices can lead to isolation, comparison with unrealistic ideals and over-stimulation effecting our sleep and concentration.
Taking a break from our devices can provide us with a proper chance to reflect on how we’re doing, and give us an opportunity to connect with the people around us. But not everyone argues that a complete disconnect from devices is always helpful. In his TED talk and other writings, Chris Dancey actually advocates for the use of devices as a way to feel we’re not in this alone. He discusses the use tech in his fight against anxiety here.
“Our devices don’t have to be our hiding place, where we avoid other people or even ourselves. Instead, we can use them as bridges to create deep meaningful connections, with ourselves and with people around us.”
He does encourage us to be aware of our app usage though. If we’ve had a good day, check your phone and app usage. What contributed from your device to make it a good day? Similarly, if you’ve had a bad day, what apps may have contributed, and how could you limit the use of these in the future?
Working in partnership
There is definitely a role for technology to play when it comes to the self-management of symptoms related to mental health, and we should always encourage our tech wizards to innovate and find solutions for the problems we’re facing. However, we must ensure that our devices don’t take away from the real life face-to-face connections that we all need. Our apps shouldn’t substitute for professional help; instead technology should compliment the work of our experts. It’s about a partnership; the best tools working together to help us all live happy and well.
We work across a number of businesses to provide effective bespoke software solutions to tackle modern day issues. To discover more of what we can do, get in touch with our team today.