Look, I’m not going to mince words here—mental illness can seriously suck. It double sucks when you’re part of a marginalized population and get the bonus prize of discrimination and oppression. However, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that here at FemHype, we are Big Nerds, and guess what? There are other Big Nerds out there who make cool apps to help people with mental illnesses get up on their feet, and I can hook you up. Even if you aren’t interested in downloading any of these apps for yourself, I highly recommend boosting awareness about them in case one of your friends is!
1. BoosterBuddy (iOS, Android)
BoosterBuddy is an app designed by Island Health, a health center that serves Vancouver Island, Canada in collaboration with youth who have lived experiences of mental illness. The main gist of the app is that you pick out a cute animal friend who helps track your mood and work on coping skills. BoosterBuddy is symptom-focused rather than diagnosis-focused, featuring symptom categories for initiation and motivation, oversleeping, lack of sleep, depression, abnormally high mood, anxiety, hearing voices, delusions, and alcohol and drug use. I’d like to also mention that it is adorable.
A typical day with your BoosterBuddy looks something like this: first of all, you’re asked about your mood for the day, which is tracked on a calendar for you to look back on. Then, you’re directed to a screen that shows your buddy sleeping with three goals above its head. If you complete the three goals—which are simple, yet meaningful things such as cleaning your bathroom mirror or thinking about the causes you believe in—your buddy wakes up and congratulates you for making it through another day. For completing your goals, you get coins to spend on clothing to dress your buddy up in, such as the moose hat featured in the above screenshot. (Did I mention this game is Canadian?)
Koko is a social app developed at the MIT Media Lab that uses the power of science to crowdsource cognitive behavioral theory. Basically, some scientists got together to see if the collective intelligence of online platforms such as Google and Facebook could be used to create a virtual peer support system where people with mental illness could walk through their feelings with one another. According to the app’s website, they conducted a trial study that indicated the process of writing down feelings and having a peer help the writer rethink them could help the writer rethink those thoughts themselves. (But, I’d like to add the disclaimer that there was a sample size of about 160 people for that study, so more research is going to need to be done.)
Here’s the rundown for what you do when you go on Koko: if you have a stressful thought, you post it on the app, which keeps your identity anonymous. Then, other app users give you different perspectives on your situation that can help you think your feelings through. For instance, the app’s promotional screenshots show someone posting about how nervous they are to speak in public, thinking that everyone will notice how nervous they are. A peer then points out that not everyonewill notice that the original poster is nervous, and those who will would probably be sympathetic rather than judgmental. Koko breaks down a seemingly complicated coping mechanism into something organic and easy.
Similar to the previous two apps we’ve talked about so far, SafeSpot was developed by mental health professionals in tandem with youth to give young people the tools to develop healthy coping mechanisms. Have you ever heard of a coping skills box? In a nutshell, you put things together in a box that help you get out of a rough spot in your mental health, such as coloring supplies, calming music, or pictures of loved ones. This app is kind of like a digital version of a coping skills box that you keep on your phone, although it’s also part of a larger curriculum that empowers and educates youth in the United Kingdom.
When you set up your SafeSpot, you create/upload an avatar and choose the color of the app’s theme, then set up a list of coping skills. The app’s website gives examples of coping skills that other users often use:
- Inspirational statements or lyrics from songs
- Pictures of loved ones
- Funny videos
- Audio recordings of themselves or friends encouraging them to think positively
- Audio clips from SafeSpot like the relaxing breathing clip
- Prompts to do something that helps like going a walk or taking a relaxing bath
In addition to the coping skills list, the app also offers built-in mindfulness media, a link to the SafeSpot Twitter, and a list of contacts that you can call directly through the app instead of your phone app.
Vent mixes things up a little by putting all of your emotions, whether positive or negative, on the table to talk about. It’s a lot like Twitter or Facebook where you post a status related to your life, but adds the feature of an emotion slider that helps you express how you’re feeling about that status. Instead of the typical likes and favorites of other social media platforms, Vent adds reactions such as “same” or “hug” that you can use to support other users.
I think it’s also worth mentioning that Vent seems to have pretty decent privacy settings, which is important for a premise like this. You can block other users, which hides your content from them and their content from you. Also, you can set your profile to private to filter who can see your posts and follow you. While the app rewards users for inviting their friends to the app, there’s an option to hide your username when you send the invite while still becoming eligible for giveaways and whatnot. Finally, you can delete other users’ comments on your posts.