It’s 2016 and there is most certainly an app for that. “That” is, in this case, mental health. Anyone with a smartphone can manage their mental health from their seat on the train, their couch, or even on their lunch break. Undoubtedly this influx of virtual mental health management will help to widen the availability of therapy and will ideally contribute to the de-stigmatization of mental health issues. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of “tele-counseling,” but it’s worth a closer look.
You may have head of Talkspace, which is the one app that brings a board certified therapist to you. For $25 a week, you are matched with one of over 300 licensed therapists based on your individual assessment, and you have access to them 24/7. Anytime you feel the need, you are welcome to message your therapist and they will respond. It’s simple, accessible, and affordable. However, it is important to realize that Talkspace is not a substitute for traditional therapy. According to their website, Talkspace is meant to be used as “a doorway for dealing with real life issues…that do not require a full clinical psychiatric process.” Think less therapy, more non-judgmental friend who is actually qualified to give advice. Talkspace is a great option for anyone who simply needs someone to talk to.
Stress, anxiety, and depression have all become issues that seem to affect everyone. It’s hard to go a day without hearing someone say how stressed they are about work or how depressed they are that it’s going to snow. The frequency with which these issues seem to pop up tend to minimize the reality of dealing with stress, anxiety, or depression. It’s important to realize that they are real and they are detrimental to someone’s overall wellbeing. Enter Pacifica. Pacifica is a free app (with an option to upgrade) based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which aims to help people manage their stress, anxiety, and depression on a daily basis. Each day the app will ask you how you’re feeling and will guide you through setting goals for the day, expressing your thoughts, and relaxation techniques. It also emphasizes an overall state of wellbeing, with the option to monitor time spent with family, time spent exercising, or time spent engaging in a favorite hobby. You can track your progress over time and visualize any improvements you’ve made in managing your mental health. It’s a great tool for people who need daily reminders and support in managing their anxiety and stress levels.
Depression Test is a third app that aims to help someone monitor their mental wellbeing on a daily basis. This free app allows the user to take the Patient Healthcare Questionnaire – 9 (PHQ-9) every day to gauge their level of depression. Since this tool is essentially a self-diagnosis tool, the user is reminded that this does not replace an actual consultation with a doctor. It’s best used as a tool for someone who already has a handle on their depression and just wants to monitor their day-to-day depression level.
Talkspace, Pacifica, and Depression Test are just three apps in a market becoming saturated with virtual mental health management tools. They were all created with the same goal in mind: to remove the stigma associated with mental health care. While these types of apps do serve a great purpose, they should never replace in-person treatment with a certified clinician. Using this sort of “tele-counseling” in conjunction with your approved treatment plan prescribed by a doctor can certainly be beneficial, especially when it comes to increasing the frequency and accessibility of mental health care. Hopefully, this is the just the first step in reframing the discussion about mental health.