Accessing a therapist can be as simple as pulling out your phone.
Since a quarter of Americans are diagnosed with a mental illness and admit to seeking professional help, there are several smartphone applications that can help the coping process.
Whether you’re looking for something to boost your mood or a serious guide for an emotional condition, there are a variety of apps that serve as “surrogate therapists.”
While counselors advise against solely using technology over professional one-on-one care, they do believe that the apps can be a supplemental tool.
"You can definitely utilize and capitalize on the smartphone technology to create tools that people have with them all the time," said Kristen Mulcahy, a psychologist in Falmouth, Massachusetts.
Mulcahy developed a free app catering to those suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder equipped with comprehensive tools for children and adults. The app, available on the iPad and iPhone helps reduce the anxiety experienced when they feel repetitive behaviors coming on. For example, a patient can use the tool to measure how long they can go without checking a door lock repeatedly when leaving the house. If they give in during the time allotted, they have to hit the “Just Gave In” button.
The app also emails charts of a patient’s progress to their therapist.
"It holds (patients) a lot more accountable, because they know I'm going to be able to see everything they are or aren't doing," Mulcachy said. “The price tag is steep at $79.99, but it may help patients cut back on their more expensive in-person sessions a lot faster.”
Another app developed by University of Texas Medical School psychiatrist Dr. Rakesh Jain helps monitor fluctuating moods. The app known as MoodyMe allows users to take photos depicting a mood such as “manic”, “excellent” and “depressed” while tagging them with a list of relevant words describing the event or action that triggered their mood. Users can also share their photos with friends, list the type of medication they are taking, and use the “Ask a Doctor” feature for advice on a particular condition or disorder. The app comes with graphs illustrating mood patterns.
Since some studies have linked depression to body weight, Dr. Jain recommends that his patients use the BMI by Nutrisystem app to watch their weight. He also advises that they use the LiveHappy app which offers activities that can boost positive thinking including the “Best Possible Self,” the “Gratitude Journal,” and the “Replay Happy Days” activity.
"It is extremely scientifically based and (an) unusually powerful app," Dr. Jain said.
The smartphone market provides apps that help detect disorders such as “depressioncheck” and apps that connect people living with disorders such as “Bipolar Disorder Connect.”
The National Center for Telehealth and Technology, a division of the U.S. Department of Defense has also developed a range of mental illness applications that offer aid to veterans and military members. Apps such as PTSD Coach and Tactical Breather were created in partnership with the VA’s National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to offer information about the condition, as well as tips on anger management and relaxation exercises.