Apps for depression: Mobile features that make the fight easier

Anastasia Yaskevich, enterprise mobility researcher at IT consulting company ScienceSoft, looks into the concept of apps for depression and lists how each of their features can be useful for those suffering from mental health problems.

According to World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. However, the lack of visible symptoms and, hence, a ‘tangible proof’ of being ill is the reason why people suffering from depression can’t always get the strong support they need so bad: even close friends and family often accuse them of being unjustifiably lazy or gloomy.

So, for many depressed people, regular therapy sessions with a mental health professional mean not just a chance of recovery through quality help, but also the only way of receiving any support at all. Still, very few patients can afford more than one or two appointments a week. Others admit that at times they find it very difficult to make it from one session to the next one.

To help these patients cope with the condition in their everyday life, therapists can suggest using mobile software developed specifically for fighting depression. Mobile apps for depression can provide a decent level of support and take care of their users in an almost humanly way. Below, we’ll take a look at the app features that can help a person with depression get through their daily life.


Activity log

Professor Lisa Pennisi of the University of Nebraska compared depression to a constantly falling snow, which a person should regularly shovel while trying to fulfill their everyday responsibilities. This unavoidable mental ‘shoveling’ is so exhausting that there’s little energy left for doing other tasks. The fact that no real work caused this exhaustion and they are being unproductive for seemingly no reason makes patients feel miserable. A mobile activity log’s main objective is to help the user acknowledge even small progress and take pride in making every step forward.

Together with a mental health professional, a patient can create a realistic list of things they wish they could be able to do in their everyday life. The entries in this list can then be put in a ‘daily minimum’, ‘exceptional proactivity’ or other customised groups. Basing on their own condition at the start of every day, a user can choose any of these groups as a set of daily goals. As they perform any activity, they can add it to the log, marking it as a small yet meaningful achievement. In exchange, they’ll receive special virtual rewards and encouraging messages.


Self-care reminders

Because of the ‘mental shoveling’, a mentally ill patient can sometimes disregard taking care of their nourishment, medicine intake, and hygiene. A soft push is indispensable here, and mobile apps for depression can serve as initiators.

A self-care feature will check on its user every day by asking whether they had a meal, showered and took their pills; if not, it’ll give them a push to do so. The wording of these push-reminders is important and, when formulated individually with a healthcare specialist, they can actually stimulate action.


Mood statistics

Although there may not always be tangible reasons for depression, there can be life matters that negatively influence a person and worsen their condition. Surprisingly, regardless of how strong their negative effect is, these reasons may remain unnoticed for a very long time.

To pinpoint these causes of negative emotions, a person should take a deep look into their daily life. Using a mood stats feature, they can rate their mood in the app at different times of the day throughout the week. A rating scale can be made up of numbers, emoticons, or adjectives. The feature can also offer short tests to evaluate a person’s mood according to the built-in algorithms.

Once there’s enough data collected, a person can view it in the form of neat graphics. By reflecting on this data, a mental healthcare professional and their patient can identify the source of negative influence and then work together to find a way to address it.


Self-harm prevention

A self-harm urge is the moment when a patient needs to do everything they can to get out of the trap of their own ill mind that tells them to give inner pain a real form. To help a person resist this urge, a therapist usually teaches them to form some sort of a distracting healthy habit to substitute this dangerous one. Turning to mobile apps for depression can be one of such habits.

An example of emergency mental care apps, an app with a self-harm prevention feature will immediately react to a tap on the icon and take measures to switch its user’s attention from self-harm to other activities. To help a person relax, it will offer meditation sessions or calming interactive animations. The feature can also show customised reminders, such as pictures of loved ones or inspiring and uplifting messages, to help a person remember about what they treasure in their life most.


Remote communication

Establishing contact with people is the most basic function of a mobile device. In a depression app, the feature can be customised to offer different ways of communication – video, audio, and text chats – specifically with fellow patients. A user can search for different groups based on various criteria (gender, age, type of depression) in order to find a group they’d feel comfortable to talk in.

Remote communication can also be used for online therapy sessions that are more preferable for people in deep depression, since in-person visits are often difficult for them. What’s more, the app with this feature can have several ‘crisis centre’ chats targeted at various mental problems and offering immediate professional help.


Wrapping up

Polls report that only one in five mentally ill people receives the right depression treatment they so desperately need. Mobile apps for depression can improve these statistics by providing motivation, validation, and support, approved by mental care professionals. Such apps can also help to substitute harmful habits with healthy activities, as well as serve as a mediators in connecting with other patients and therapists.

Anastasia Yaskevich is an enterprise mobility researcher at ScienceSoft, an IT consulting company headquartered in McKinney, Texas. She started out in IT with research on cloud computing and UI design, and now writes on mobile technology and mobile design trends. With her interest in psychology and experience in managing employee satisfaction surveys, Anastasia taps in HR-related technologies and overviews the concepts of mobile HRM applications.


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