Both mobile app stores contain a lot of health and wellbeing centered apps. But most of these apps are focused on maintaining wellbeing through fitness and proper nutrition. While the body aspect is pretty much well-covered, another important part of wellbeing remains neglected on mobile app stores – mental health.
Mental health apps are not prevalent in app stores, like fitness or primary care apps. Most of those you can find are not designed for healthcare professionals, but as self-help tools, made for general audience.
One of these apps, Self-help Anxiety Management, has been already reviewed on SteadyHealth. It's designed by the team of psychologists to provide a range of self-help techniques for people who want to learn how to manage their anxiety.
Another similar app we review today is MoodTools. This app was created by Eddie Jiu and Nancy Su, two Duke Psychology students, with a goal to combat clinical depression and negative moods by using six self-help techniques. The app educates general audience on different types of depression, various treatments, and dealing with the critical situations such as suicide.
MoodTools is a free app that also includes Pro version, which is basically a donation to keep the app running, with the minimum payment of $0.99. The pro version unlocks password protection, 10 additional themes and some upcoming features.
As said, the MoodTools app is primarily designed as a self-help tool, but it can also be used as a supplement to treatment. Upon opening the app, you'll be taken through the short tour that explains the main features and how the app works, after which you'll get to the main screen.
You'll notice that the interface is quite simple with six icons on the screen, representing six self-help tools that include Information, Test, Videos, Thought Diary, Activities and Safety Plan.
Information section contains basic information about depression, symptoms, types, causes, as well as treatment options.
Test lets you take the PHQ-9 depression questionnaire providing several questions with four different answers in order to determine symptom severity and help users track it over time.
However, it doesn't take the issue of possible suicide very seriously and effectively. If users' answers indicate they might be suicidal, they'll be advised to contact their doctor immediately and get two links on how to sleep better (!) and how to deal with suicidal thoughts, which both lead to Helpguide.org website, which isn't authority source for such serious issue.
Possible suicide is a matter of urgency, so this part of the app lacks suicide safety hotlines, and better integration with the safety plan.
Videos section contains helpful YouTube videos intended to improve your mood, from guided meditations, soothing sounds, to TED talks.
Thought Diary allows you to add entries with situations, emotions and levels of distress, which should help you to analyze and identify negative thinking patterns. I was a bit confused with the numeric scale provided for the levels of distress. I'm not sure how users can decide on the level, for example how do they know when the distress is 6 or 7. Descriptions would work better that numbers in my opinion.
Activities section allows users to choose from the list of activities and track which activities improve their mood the most. Activities include exercising, helping others, relaxing, reading a book, etc. Users can choose the activity, or tap on the Shuffle button and let the app decide for them. Users can also add their own custom activity.
Finally, the Safety Plan helps create a suicide safety plan to keep patients safe during a suicidal crisis. It utilizes detailed guide on how to stay safe, along with emergency resources links and possibility to add emergency contacts. It also allows patients to find nearest urgent care or emergency department, which just opens the map application on your phone, but doesn't provide any hotline.
Another problem with the Safety Plan is that it requires users to add warning signs, coping strategies, and reasons to live, all by themselves. If the users are severely depressed, their cognition would most likely be impaired, so it's quite pointless asking them to be focused on creating their own safety plan or to write down reasons to live they actually can't find during the suicide crisis. The app should have included the pre-made list of coping strategies and motivational steps, but in more intuitive way than simple pages filled with text.
This is one of the biggest issues with MoodTools app. Although it has a lot of videos, they are separated in one category and the most of the app is text heavy. I expected to see more multimedia and more interactivity.
Also, the app doesn't include a reminder feature, which is very strange for the app that relies on motivation and self-help techniques. How do you expect users to stay motivated if you don't allow them to receive reminder notifications?
The information section is well-referenced with links to authority sources, including WebMD, NIMH, Mayo, and American Psychology Association. Another upside is clean and simple interface that is very easy to navigate and use.
MoodTools app works well only as an educational reference guide helping users learn more about depression and treatments options, or as a mood diary/tracker. However, it requires a lot more improvements to be considered a serious tool for clinical depression self-management.
Benefit: MoodTools app is intended for patients suffering from clinical depression