Since teens are on their phone just about every waking minute, why not use the phone as a mental health tool? Well, that’s what many experts in the field have been thinking and for that reason there are many tools out there for teens who are struggling with depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and other psychological illnesses.
For instance, a smartphone app designed for teens with eating disorders and body image issues gives them a way to stay responsible with their eating choices and behaviors. Twenty-two year old Jessica Joachim, who has been struggling with an eating disorder since she was 12, uses the app to record whether she purges, restricts how much she eats each day, and completes coping strategy exercises that teach her how to have a healthy relationship to food and eating. She also uses the app to communicate with a mental health professional trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
It’s one thing to be seeing a therapist once per week to talk about depression, or in Jessica’s case, an eating disorder, and it’s another thing for a teen to pull out his or her phone and record symptoms, triggers, feelings, and their progress. Teens are accustomed to using social media, Internet, and mobile phone apps to access the information they need. They use digital devices to talk to their friends, watch movies, and complete their homework. Teens no longer reach for books or head to the library for information; instead they reach for their phone.
Because teens use their phones so readily, this can be the avenue by which they access mental health assistance. Sadly, less than half of adolescents with psychiatric disorders received any kind of treatment in the past year. It’s clear that there remains a social stigma regarding psychological disorders and teen mental illness. The stigma and shame associated with “having something wrong with you” has become one of the largest barriers for teens in accessing the treatment they need. In fact, frequently adolescents are not aware that they even need treatment and believe that feeling sad or anxious is part of everyday life. Yet, with apps and text-based services, teens can access information, manage symptoms and triggers, and even communicate with a mental health professional.
For instance, the Crisis Text Line, provided by DoSomething.Org, gives teens a way to connect with trained specialists 24 hours a day. The same is true with the app Mood 24/7 which lets teens send a message to trained mental health professionals about how they’re feeling. Lantern is a web-based service that requires a low monthly fee but provides support for managing an eating disorder. Another app, called The CodeBlue, gives teens the opportunity to let a supportive network of people know when they might be feeling depressed. Similar to The CodeBlue is Uber for teens who need mental help in hurry.
Lastly, there is the very popular Canadian app that called BoosterBuddy. It provides teens with a list of coping mechanisms, tips for controlled breathing exercises, types of mental health concerns, and ways to manage symptoms. BoosterBuddy was created by Calgary-based developers Robots & Pencils, Island Health, Victoria Hospitals Foundation and a $150,000 donation from Coast Capital Savings. The app helps teens do the following:
- Check-in with how you are feeling each day
- Use coping skills
- Keep track of appointments and medications
- Get started on tasks
- Follow self-care routines
- Increase real-life socialization
This app makes it easier for adolescents to navigate their inner experience. It’s a free app that facilitates teens feeling better by assisting them in managing their feelings, thoughts, and actions. Furthermore, the company responsible for the app donates seven per cent of its pre-tax profits back into the community, which will equal $5.7 million in 2014 alone.
Having a tool teens can pull out of their pocket gives them hope and encourages their happiness. By being able to access support within a few seconds, such technology-based mental health tools hold potential for significantly affecting the overall mental health for United States youth. Certainly, using apps and text-based services mirrors the character of this generation to rely upon technology to meet their needs.
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