Sometimes the most frustrating part about dealing with depression or anxiety isn't not knowing what to do about it--it's knowing
what you should do and still, for whatever reason, not being able to do it. Take the example of a really bummed-out woman lying on the couch, mentally collecting all of the upsetting psychic Play-Doh bits that are troubling her and sticking them together to make one ugly, pieced-together ball-of-woe. She's done this before, so she knows she should pick up the phone and call someone--her mom, her best friend, her therapist--but she just doesn't have the energy. So the ball-of-woe keeps getting bigger and heavier.
Researchers at Northwestern University are currently working on an app to help depressed people who find themselves in this situation. A recent Scientific American podcast succinctly explains (in less than a minute and a half, no less)
how the app, called Mobilyze!, will use the GPS and accelerometer from a depressed patient's smartphone to track their habits and identify when they're sunken into the couch for hours on end. The phone will then send them impossible-to-ignore reminders to do things like call someone who can help them snap out of their funk.
There are more apps in the works for other mental health issues, too. Scientists are interested in finding ways to combine smartphones and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help people get effective treatment on the go, or when they're least likely to ask for it. Benedict Carey, a science reporter for the New York Times
, describes an app for people with social anxiety that involves a repetitive game that, with practice, could distract them from hostile faces in a crowd (read the article to see how this app could potentially train the party-phobic to calm down, refocus and enjoy themselves in a large group)
Neither of these apps are currently available to the public--nor is the one European psychologists are developing for heavy drinkers that involves virtually "pushing" away alcoholic beverages. But until they are, there's this: Steps Away is a meeting locator app
that helps recovering addicts find, add and map directions to the nearest 12-step meeting. It may not provide instant therapy, but it can show some people who need it exactly where to find it.