Every year, almost one in five Americans experience some form of mental illness. Everyone will endure a variety of physical ailments throughout their lifetimes, whether these conditions are acute or chronic, minor or debilitating. We all suffer the ramifications of physical events (puberty, illness) mental health issues (anxiety, depression) and emotional struggles (break-ups, grief), and we do so while carrying around a million potential treatments in our pockets.
Physical or mental health apps aren’t a panacea, but they can lessen the burden. Today, software packages are being used to mitigate issues as diverse as anxiety, obesity, and autism. And even though public figures are increasingly helping make mental health a mainstream topic, the anonymity provided by certain apps helps people who are unable or unwilling to openly discuss their issues.
You wear it well
Many modern health apps work in tandem with wearables. Devices like the Fitbit and the Apple Watch are fashion statements as much as health tools, tracking everything from pulse rates and activity levels to sleep quality. Crowdfunding campaigns are now supporting the second generation of wearables, capable of predicting forthcoming issues. These include anticipating periods of stress and anxiety or giving early warnings of behavior spikes among those with autism.
Almost by definition, their compact size and limited interfaces mean wearables will probably need accompanying apps for several years to come. It’s also worth considering that some mental health issues are exacerbated by smartphone usage – more screen time isn’t always beneficial. Nonetheless, there are several areas where health apps may prove beneficial:
Wearables are most commonly associated with physical health apps. The iconic FitBit leads a rapidly diversifying roster of items encouraging us to exercise while recording our activities, and even monitoring our vital statistics at rest. Apps provide guided classes from yoga to HIIT, while community forums are packed with supportive fellow participants.
Physical health goes beyond exercise, however. Dietary apps help people to lose weight or develop a healthier relationship with food through meal planning and nutritional information. There are apps for herbal remedies and homeopathy, diaries and trackers covering specific issues such as physical therapy, and an array of weight loss tools.
Over the course of this decade, mindfulness has become the frontline of mental health management. There are numerous apps dedicated to relaxation, breathing and focusing on one thing to prevent negative or harmful thoughts dominating our thoughts. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce the severity of illness as diverse as OCD and depression.
Mental health is a broad topic, and most conditions now have suites of apps dedicated to them. There are rarely any easy fixes, which is why words like ‘cure’ and ‘solution’ tend to be absent. These apps are about managing conditions, minimizing their impact or recognizing potential triggers – often helped by mentors, buddies, and online communities.
Despite associations with trolling and body shaming, social media apps can play a positive role in personal wellbeing. Appropriate use of hashtags often yields supportive and informative responses to stories or posts, while anonymity encourages discussions about things we may struggle to explain in person. Writing about bad experiences tends to drain the sump of suffering, and blogging platforms like The Mighty are great for sharing thoughts in a safe space.
Advice and review forums include HealthyPlace and PsychCentral. Finally, eHealth platforms apps provide 24/7 consultations with trained doctors and specialists, without having to leave home. This benefits people with disabilities or phobias, as well as anyone who lacks transport or local medical facilities.