BY MIZ HASHIMOTO
TW: depression, anxiety
CN: therapy, mental health apps on phones
Have you ever:
- Avoided a diagnosis of depression for four years because you couldn’t get a word out when you first went to see a doctor?
- Been recommended therapists by friends but always said you’d ‘give them a ring later’, thus putting it off for eternity?
- Lied to your GP about going to the University Counselling Services because, even though you know that counselling is supposed to complement medication, you just don’t want to go?
i.e. are you like me?
I have always struggled with verbal communication, not just in the face of health professionals but also friends and family: it’s only in my tenth year of dealing with depression and anxiety that I finally realised I couldn’t keep on struggling by myself forever, and made an effort to talk about my experiences, current states-of-being and (gasp!) feelings to my closest friends.
It was a good idea, and I kind of managed it. Nonetheless, the prospect of going to therapy is still daunting. I went twice when I was sixteen, when I sat and cried in front of a kind lady who didn’t get a word out of me. Being a habitual liar when it comes to small talk with strangers (in cabs, shops, you name it) doesn’t help either, since it means that I have a tendency to lie to therapists about how I’m feeling. 2/10, would not recommend.
So, I hate talking to people. About things. But I realised two things. Firstly, I do need some way of charting my thoughts and trying to challenge them, even though medication as a stand-alone treatment has helped massively. Secondly, I spend far too much time on my phone. This led me to seek out an alternative source of help that could work alongside my anti-depressants: apps!
I have to note here that I haven’t tried every single mood/mental health-based app in existence because I do still want to pretend I have a life, and so these two apps below may not work for everyone. But still, they are suggestions, and good places to start, if you are curious:
Depression: MoodTools. (moodtools.org) – Free!
Things I love about this app:
- The ‘Thought Diary’ section where you can jot down your feelings and thoughts bit by bit, and then challenge them using a list of cognitive distortions that helps you to identify where your brain’s gone wrong. It took me a while to get into the habit of using it, and I don’t manage to do it all the time, but I’ve found that this lets you see your thought patterns and gives clear ways to change them. Reading the list of cognitive distortions is helpful in itself because it makes you realise how your thoughts are common to people with depression, and allows you to rationalise them. I’ve also recently taken to sending screenshots of Thought Diary entries if I’m talking to friends about how I’m feeling: it saves having to explain in person!
- The layout. It’s very simple and pretty.
- The ‘Safety Plan’ section, which makes me feel more confident by being a safety net that I know I can turn to. Filling it out it also serves as a reminder of the many ways you can ask for help, which is something I think we all need from time to time!
- It was developed by students at Duke University! A small detail, but I love that students got together to actively make sources of support! Yay!
Anxiety: SAM App. (sam-app.org.uk) – Free!
Things that are handy about this app:
- Being able to track your anxiety levels, which again lets you chart moods and identify factors which might affect them.
- When I have bad anxiety, I tend to end up playing on my phone pointlessly for ages. The self-help exercises are great to wander into during these dips, and the variety is great: they range from physical and mental exercises to little tips and tricks to get you reflecting.
- It’s customisable, so you can have useful shortcuts to the exercises that work best for you.
- It’s super clear and easy to use! I love how you don’t need to write or fill in anything with words: just a few simple taps for everything.
There are downsides to using apps: sometimes I can be too low to remember to use them, or if I’m avoiding using my phone, then it’s not something I can do. But still, no method of coping with illness – distraction via friends, TV, exercise, meditation – is foolproof.
In the absence of therapy as a method of going through my thoughts and challenging them, I’ve found these apps (especially MoodTools!) an incredibly helpful option to have at hand – literally! So if you have some spare time and spare gigabytes to explore alternative sources of support, do consider going through an app or two.