In the most recent survey of mobile phone and personal technology, PEW Research published a “Mobile Fact Sheet” during the month of January 2017. The survey revealed that 95% of Americans own a cellphone, and that smartphone use (with web browsing and app capability) has grown from 35% to 77% in the short period between 2011 to 2017.
There is no denying that mobile technology has impacted how we live, organize ourselves, communicate and find the information we are looking for, daily.
One of the exciting and high growth areas of adoption, when it comes to practical uses for smartphones, is the intersection between apps and healthcare. Whether accessing them at home on a desktop, remotely via laptop or tablet or through a mobile phone, our lives are driven by a variety of apps we engage with routinely. And some of them have a very positive impact on psychological well-being and mental health; worth trying out for anyone who wants to reduce stress and anxiety, and learn more about themselves.
Understanding the Stigma of Mental Health Needs
Conditions like depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and other mental health needs continue to be misunderstood, joked about or minimalized both is social situations, and through digital media. People feel like it is not ‘okay’ to be honest about their needs and the mental health conditions that impact their lives, because they are often vilified or mocked for it, as though it is a switch that they can simply ‘turn off’, or a weakness.
Celebrities in the past ten years (thanks in part to the rise of blogging and social media use) have become more transparent about conditions that previously, would have been hidden from the public. Their openness to discuss personal struggles have helped create a more humanized face for mental health conditions:
“I have never been remotely ashamed of having been depressed. Never. What’s to be ashamed of? I went through a really rough time and I am quite proud that I got out of that.” – J.K. Rowlings
“[Anxiety] is a mental illness, and nobody likes to use the word ‘mental illness.’ But it is. And it’s not something that people choose to have. And you can either let it rule your life and let it make you miserable or you can just think, ‘No, I don’t want to live my life like that anymore.’” – Zoe Sugg
Accessing the care of a psychologist or therapist is not always in the budget, for many individuals who need the support and coaching. Recognizing a diagnosed mental health condition, or symptoms of anxiety and how they impact everything we do daily, is the first step to learning management tools that work. That’s where our relationship with our personal technology and apps designed to improve mental health, hold the most promise.
We all know that deep breathing exercises provide a health benefit, both to our physical well being and mental relaxation. The practice of meditative exercise like yoga, encourages mindfulness through deep breathing, that has been scientifically proven to address stress, hypertension and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
It sounds easy enough to do, right? We should all be able to find small moments in our busy schedules to breathe quietly and recharge our mental energy, but it’s something that we don’t do, because we are often too pressed for time to do it. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an app that prompted you to engage in regular, healthy mental breaks and deep breathing exercises?
Of course, there’s an app for that. There are many in fact, but one of the most currently popular apps is Breath2Relax, which teaches you the fundamentals of breathing correctly, for relaxation. The first surprise when we tested it was understanding that shallow breathing contributes to increased stress on the body. Many of us are breathing incorrectly, and missing the opportunity to engage in completely natural relaxation techniques, that can help manage stress, improve sleep quality and more through diaphragmatic breathing.
2. Big White Wall
Nothing helps us understand our anxieties, stresses and how to cope better, than talking to other people who share the same challenges. The Big White Wall application provides self-assessment tests to help identify strengths and areas that can be improved with better self-care. It also allows users to share on forums and message boards, and learn more about overcoming the stigmas associated with mental health conditions.
The anonymity of the app through private usernames, helps people to really express what they are feeling, without fear of scrutiny, in the supportive online community. Remote therapeutic services by trained therapists are also available through iOS and Android devices.
3. SAM (Self-Help Anxiety Management)
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than 1.5% of the U.S. population experiences symptoms of clinical anxiety disorders, or about 3.3 million adults over the age of 18 years. The debilitating impact of anxiety on career, personal relationships, financial management and other important life domains is often misrepresented, and not understood as a clinical mental health issue.
The SAM app allows people with anxiety to actively work daily, on deepening their understanding of the condition, emotional triggers and adaptive techniques to reduce some of the most paralyzing symptoms of the condition. Over time, the app helps users navigate 25 self-help modules and develop a personalized anxiety toolkit, refined by doing regular stress inventories, that help improve quality of life.
With affordable apps, online learning and supportive anonymous communities, a stigma-free environment of support and acceptance can really change lives, and promote compassion and understanding for individuals who struggle with special mental health needs. As our lives get ever more hectic, and public social programs become more difficult to find, apps may become the greatest source of therapeutic access, in the years to come.