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Apps Can Help With Mood Disorders

Apps Can Help With Mood DisordersApps are all the rage with smartphone and tablet users. There is a staggering variety of available apps, from those that are purely for entertainment to a new type of app aimed at helping people with mental illnesses. It’s natural to feel skeptical that an app could really help someone struggling with a real and serious mental illness, but as a tool rather than treatment itself, an app may be able to help improve mood disorders in particular.

Self-Tracking Mood

There are two basic types of apps available for helping people with mood disorders like bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety disorders. The lower-tech option is an app that gives the user a way to track her mood, her feelings, what she is doing and other factors that impact mood. These kinds of apps require self-motivation, and some utilize a reward system to encourage daily records.

For instance, an app called Thrive, which was developed by a computer consultant who has struggled for the last decade with bipolar disorder, offers users the ability to record mood swings and to get rewards for doing so. Adrian Cunanan, the developer of the app, learned from experts how to control his bipolar disorder with a combination of medications, exercise, meditation and recording his mood and sleep patterns.

His app uses gamification to encourage other mood disorder sufferers to take a similar approach to managing their mental illnesses. Gamification means using the elements of a game to engage users in creating healthy habits. By recording sleep, exercise, meditation, mood, therapy sessions and journaling, users can earn rewards like gift cards. The app is free and, although not created by a medical professional, is worth a try for anyone with a mood disorder and even those of us without one. Cunanan believes that everyone could benefit from tracking mood and healthy habits.

App Monitoring of Mood

The other kind of app that has appeared in the last couple of years does the tracking of mood for the user. These apps use the person’s speech, body temperature and other metrics to assess mood. They have been studied by researchers, and the findings are positive. Researchers have found that speech-recognition apps, for instance, can accurately recognize different moods in bipolar patients. These apps will likely become more common as monitoring devices for people with mood disorders.

Apps that monitor the mood of the user are more technologically complex than self-monitoring apps. They are likely to continue to be the subject of research, and the Food and Drug Administration is even getting in on the trend. The FDA has already created guidelines for the use of medical apps and has put its stamp of approval on several. These are largely for physical conditions, but it seems likely that mental health apps will be viewed more critically in the years to come.

More research needs to be conducted to find out just how useful mood disorder apps will be, but they are really just a continuation of traditional therapy. Therapists treating mood disorders usually ask their patients to track and record their moods and other lifestyle factors. Apps make this easier and more engaging. By tracking mood, whether with pen and paper or an app, patients and their doctors can find what triggers mood changes, identify patterns that need to be changed and find out if medications are helping. If apps can help with this and pose no risk, they are worth using as a supplement to professional treatment.

Posted on April 3rd, 2015

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