The digital future of mental health: from moodtracking to mindfulness
Increasingly, psychologists are envisaging a digital future for mental health. There’s been a proliferation of apps focused on improving mental health available to smartphone users in recent years: in 2019, over 10,000 mental health apps were available for download. So why this sudden digitisation of mental health? Psychologists point to the convenience, accessibility, and anonymity of digital interventions. These apps are either very reasonly priced or free to use, and offer a wealth of resources that make therapeutic techniques accessible, portable and cost-effective. Dig Detox are excited to share three of our favourite apps, with a focus on moodtracking, mindfulness and sleep.
Mood tracking - where a person records their mood usually at set time intervals in order to help identify patterns in how their mood varies - is a technique that draws on principles from cognitive behavioural therapy. A recent explosion of mood tracking apps is driving a growing number of people to integrate these apps into their lifestyle to track and reflect on changes in their moods.
Moodkit, a mood-tracking app developed by two clinical psychologists, draws upon CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) principles. It’s been repeatedly selected as one of the world’s best mental health apps, featuring in the NY Times, London Times and Harvard Business Review. The app provides users with a unique, tailored ‘mood kit’, filled with tools for managing depressed mood, stress and anxiety. With Moodkit, users can track their mood (and monitor their progress over a period of time), reflect on and modify unhealthy thinking patterns (known by CBT practitioners as ‘thought distortions’), and access over 200 mood-enhancing activities, ranging from time-management techniques to advice on proper nutrition.
Expert Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as ‘paying attention to the present moment with intention’, in order to understand and tolerate emotion constructively. Mindfulnesss habits have been connected with a reduction of stress, anxiety and depression, and more focused attention. Those who practice mindfulness benefit from an improved ability to regulate emotions, heightened concentration and reduced ruminative thinking.
Insight Timer, home to the world’s largest library of guided meditations, teaches users how to meditate and calm the mind, to drive reduced anxiety, manage stress and even improve sleep quality. The app offers guided meditations and talks led by the world’s top meditation and mindfulness experts, neuroscientists and psychologists, as well as a meditation timer and a progress tracker.
Insomnia, the most common sleep disorder affecting an estimated 20% of people, leaves sufferers vulnerable to a deterioration of mental health, specifically heightened anxiety, as well as impaired concentration and memory. Whilst sleep disturbances can occur in isolation, in the vast majority of people, poor sleep co-exists alongside mental or physical health problems. And with increasingly busy lives, The Mental Health foundation have estimated that the average person sleeps around 90 minutes less each night than we did in the 1920s.
The Sleepio app, a personalised digital sleep intervention that also draws on CBT techniques, has been clinically proven to help poor sleep. Sleepio includes a daily sleep diary and scheduling tool, designed to help long term poor sleepers adapt to regular sleeping routines, and provides users with relaxation techniques to aid better quality sleep, delivered by The Prof, a virtual sleep expert. In fact, Sleepio is so effective that the NHS has offered free Sleepio subscriptions to millions of insomniacs, dubbing the app a ‘digital sleeping pill’.
This is the first in a series of articles about how technology can improve our health, both mental and physical.
This article was brought to you by Dig Detox. Our mission is to help people use technology safely because we believe health is your most valuable asset. Please visit www.digdetox.com for more articles, research and information about the movement.
By Effie Webb
University of Oxford
First Published on 31 May 2020
Center For Change
Mental Health Foundation