Monash University Doctor of Psychology student, David Bakker, is developing a smartphone app, MoodMission, which uses an intuitive and engaging interface to help users improve their psychological health and well-being.
David, and supervisor Associate Professor Nikki Rickard, have been working on MoodMission for the past 18 months. The project is now seeking support from investors through crowdfunding site Pozible, to start coding the software with help from Spark Digital – the same app development firm behind Smiling Mind.
MoodMission is raising very necessary funds to support its development, you can donate to their Pozible campaign here.
David explains to us how it works:
You start by telling MoodMission how you are feeling, and MoodMission gives you a choice of 5 Missions. These are easily achievable, relatively brief, evidence-based coping techniques that are tailored to how you feel. Things like going for a 5 minute walk or doing a 5 minute meditation. Once you complete the Mission, you tell MoodMission how it went and based on that feedback MoodMission is better able to tailor future missions for your own unique coping profile. MoodMission also rewards you for completing Missions with gamified achievements and unlockable features.
How did the project come about, what niche are you seeking to fill in the people’s lives?
My research interest is in using smartphone apps to improve mental health, and when I reviewed the apps available I was disappointed in being unable to find something that could be downloaded and easily used by someone seeking help for psychological distress. Say someone’s feeling anxious, so they go to the app store and search for “anxiety”. A lot of the apps that you find are not exactly straight forward to use. You almost need a psychologist coaching you to use them. There is also a lack of rationale for many of the apps. Not many explain why you should use them and why they work. A lot of psychological research has shown that if you explain to someone how therapeutic processes are designed to work, they get much more motivated to engage in them and take control of their mental health.
So after a lot of dissatisfaction, I decided to do a thorough literature review of the research and come up with some core recommendations for future mental health apps. We came up with 16 recommendations, covering everything from target market to psychological interventions to methods of user engagement. We’ve submitted this literature review for publication in an academic journal, and MoodMission aims to fulfil all 16 of these evidence-based recommendations.
As for the specific niche we want to fill, when someone feels low or anxious and they want to feel better, we want them to try a Mission. We want MoodMission to be just that simple. We all experience low moods or anxious feelings from time to time, and often we are able to find ways of coping. But sometimes we can’t find the motivation, or we don’t know about alternative ways, or there is just some other barrier to coping. And this is the point where many clinical anxiety or depression problems can precipitate.
If you Google “I’m anxious, what do I do” you get a bewildering array of options, which only compounds your feelings of being overwhelmed. We want MoodMission to take the stress out of coping and to help people find reliable, evidence-based solutions to their problems in real-time.
You mention Smiling Mind as a leader in the field, how does MoodMission differ, or build upon Smiling Mind’s base?
Smiling Mind is an absolutely terrific app for so many reasons. However, it takes a slightly different approach to MoodMission. Many people use Smiling Mind on a regular basis to practice mindfulness meditation. Sometimes they may use the meditations as a coping technique, but they will probably have to learn to do that themselves. MoodMission wants to aid that learning step, and we plan on referring users out to Smiling Mind to complete meditations as Missions.
Just like Smiling Mind, MoodMission can be used by anyone and everyone. Many mental health apps target people with clinically significant mental illnesses, which is problematic for several reasons. Firstly, users will need to identify as someone with a mental illness to be able to use the app. This can cause all sorts of negative self-labelling and can restrict the number of users. And if you were depressed but you’re feeling better now, do you keep using the app? Well, you probably should to maintain your psychological health, but according to the app you need to be depressed to use it. Secondly, many of the psychological techniques developed to treat disorders can actually be really effective in preventing them and in boosting positive moods and well-being. Smiling Mind is a perfect example of this, taking mindfulness meditation out of the consulting room and onto people’s phones, into classrooms, and into organisations. And thirdly, prevention is always better than treatment, so apps should aim to prevent psychological problems from getting out of control rather than dealing with them in an out of control state.
With Smiling Mind receiving so much acclaim, and MoodMission set to launch, how do you see these apps playing into the more traditional psycho-therapeutic practices?
We believe that mental health apps will play a vital role in improving the mental health of all Australians. One in four Australians will experience a clinically significant anxiety disorder and one in six will experience depression throughout their lives. And these are very treatable and preventable problems. The cost of mental illness on the Australian economy is staggering, the World Health Organisation has listed depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Services are often aimed at the acute end of the mental health spectrum, but money spent there is wildly inefficient. It is much, much more economical to prevent mental illness through education, social supports, and self-guided resources. Mobile technologies are flexible and self-guided, can facilitate education and socialisation, and are able to be private and discrete, so apps really are perfectly suited to mental health support.
In regards to psychotherapy, many of the best therapeutic practices involve the clinician collaborating with the client to set some activities for the client to engage in between therapy sessions. At the next session, the clinicians reviews with the client how the activities went and may use some of the notes taken by the client about their experiences as a jumping off point for more therapeutic exploration. These activities are often referred to as “homework” within the psychological community. MoodMission, and other mental health apps, are perfectly poised to be the ultimate tool for homework facilitation and tracking.
But that is just one small application. The goal is for MoodMission to be a simple, easily accessible, engaging tool for anyone to use to boost their mood and improve their mental health and well-being.