Web therapies and apps to help your mental health

January 10, 2013 9:00:03 PM PST
Thanks to mobile phones, you now can have a therapist in your pocket.

Web-based therapies and easy-to-use apps could change the lives of people who suffer from mood disorders or who are just feeling down.

We know our blood pressure and our cholesterol numbers, so why not know our mental health number?

"Let's be frank. Everyone goes through times when they are sad everyone goes through times when they are nervous," psychologist Jason Washburn said.

An app "What's My M3?" is considered by many doctors as a reliable screen for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

"It accesses a whole bunch of different things in only 27 questions," Washburn said.

The screening creates a score for each disorder.

Users rate their feelings based on statements like 'I feel dull, numb or detached' or 'I am nervous or shaky in social situations'.

People can take the test anonymously but experts hope users will share the results with their doctor.

For those already diagnosed with a mood disorder there is counseling available on the spot anytime and anywhere.

"This isn't about replacing therapists or decreasing social contact this is about giving people skills to live better," Dr. Jenna Duffecy of Northwestern University's Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies said.

At CBIT scientists and therapists are designing and testing mobile and internet based programs to fill in the gap between traditional therapy sessions.

Among the projects are a medicine bottle that tracks your antidepressant use and an application called Mobilyze that helps people with depression cope in the real world.

The technology, which is still being fine-tuned, tracks users' location, uses an accelerometer to monitor activity level and is programmed to know what sets off moods.

"It takes all of that information plus what you put in," Duffecy said. "So you would do ratings of how happy you how sad you are how anxious and it will be able to predict potential problem situations"

For example, if the app senses you have been alone for a while, the program will prompt you to take action by calling a friend or going for a walk outside.

It nudges people to increase behaviors that make them feel good.

The ultimate goal to help patients build their own coping skills.

"This is a field that is emerging and people need to be not just aware that it exists but knowledgeable about how it is going to affect their lives," the technology core leader at CBITs Mark Begale said.

Aside from convenience and potential cost savings, these apps could help those who are unable to see a real live therapist or who are just uncomfortable with standard psychotherapy.

Note: The Northwestern research is ongoing and participants are needed.

For information visit: http://cbits.northwestern.edu/enroll/

For more on "What's My M3?" visit www.whatsmym3.com