Must Miss Mobile Mental Health Apps

Posted on August 16, 2012 by


After decades of going to movies with my father, I’ve got his modus operandi pretty much down. The first thing to know is that if it’s a fairly ridiculous movie (think “Naked Gun” or “Airplane” and you’ve got the idea), he will laugh himself to the point of tears, and will need an aisle seat to allow for room for his contortions of hilarity.

Second, he will, no matter what his children’s and grandchildren’s embarrassment factors, loudly proclaim at the end of a particularly wretched preview, “That’s a must miss.” He never fails. And, awkward as that may be in a crowded theater of non-like-minded people, sometimes he’s just got a point.

Which brings me to today’s apps. Although I like to applaud mobile mental health efforts, and though there are many superior apps that contribute much to the treatment of mental health, there are times my father’s words ring true in this world. Allow me to illustrate my point.

Meet. . . Pocket Psychologist Because I couldn’t get the free version to work (all my fault, nothing wrong with the app there), I actually forked over $.99 for an app that is, as far as I can see, completely devoid of any clinical benefit. And I think I’m being generous in my assessment. It advertises itself this way, and I really should have known. I have only myself to blame: “Need to talk about your problems with someone? Don’t have enough money for a real psychologist? No problem, Pocket Psychologist is here to help! Pocket Psychologist will happily chat with you about your problems, feelings, relationships, or anything else that’s bothering you! He may even give you some advice! (Disclaimer: Take this advice at your own risk)”

(Just for clarity, that disclaimer, which really should probably have some end punctuation, doesn’t–it’s not just my lousy typing.) I guess that intro might have made it clear enough that it served no practical mental health purpose, and (I’m feeling dumber by the minute), it’s in the entertainment category–but it does come up in long lists of mental health apps, so perhaps I’m not as dumb circumstances seem to indicate.

Anyway, you receive your therapy by shaking the device, and as the bobbling head of your pocket psychologist  settles, it spouts out some cliche [which, to take all the fun out of it, you can see in advance from the settings, enabling you to opt out of some, or to create your own, in case you feel like paying for an app that spouts your own sayings back to you].

“If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning,” A psychiatrist is a man who goes to a strip club–and watches the audience” (for real), and “Men, chocolate, and coffee are all better rich” are the psychologically astute truisms you’ll receive from this therapist, and, when prompted to ask a question, you may ask  anything you’d like–How do I build up my private practice?,  Am I bipolar?, Is there stigma associated with mental illness?–shake the little guy–and you get the same set of response you’d have gotten if you’d let your grandchild play with the phone and she dropped it on the floor, like she tends to do with her baby brother. It’s a must miss. And lest you think it stands alone, I introduce to you. . . . file921321126441 Mood Swings I blame myself less for falling for this, for its descriptor in iTunes was, admittedly, short on content, but still eloquent (and it had correct punctuation): “Mood Swing enables you to track your feelings and share them with the world in the most unique and elegant way.” So far so good, but, no fool I, this time I stuck with the free version, no matter how many times it encouraged me to upgrade to the 99-cent ‘premium’ one. And really, you can tell the second you start you’ve got a problem.

The first thing you have to do is pick a face for yourself–there’s no getting out of it–and they don’t inspire confidence that this is going to take your mood issues seriously. Then you pick from 5 moods. Try to guess what they are. Take 5 seconds. . . You’re wrong, all wrong. They’re: Happy, Hungry, Irritated, Drunk, and Exhausted. It’s bad news. So let’s say you select Exhausted. Fine. You can write in a little box what’s on your mind, or you can select from their choices, which include topics that give real insight into your emotional landscape. You might select Reading, or Eating, or even Partying. Or you can always pick ‘Never Mind’ and just leave the whole thing as inscrutable.

And then, most importantly to this app’s developers, you can share this fascinating tidbit about your mood state–let’s say Hungry/Stuck in Traffic–with the world, via the Twitter and Facebook buttons. Even the ‘History’ tab, which I thought might at least over a graph, as every single mood-charting app does, as far as I can tell, just lists your entries [so mine has two: “Exhausted/Never Mind” and “Hungry/Never Mind.” It’s hard to see that this would illuminate much about any condition. I’ll let it go here, but let it be known that I’m far from done. Give it a try.

Search under ‘mental health’ in your iPhone App Store and see what you find. You might come across such treasures as Frantic Freddy Bug Stomp (“Freddy is in the Therapy room. Your job is to make Freddy Face His Fears! Freddy is afraid of everything! Get past session 2 and Freddy removes his strait jacket and is able to use his hands to squish the creepy crawlers.“), or even iCrazy, which actually has real disorder assessments, but approaches them with a tone that might not sit well to someone suffering from a mental illness (“The great majority of us obsess over physical health, so why not take a few moments and checkup on your emotional/mental health.  At the very least, you can now know that the men in white coats are soon coming to take you away after you’ve scored a 50 on the Schizophrenia test, and adjust plans accordingly.”)

I just leave you with the warning that, in the App Store listing of mental health apps, the buyer had best beware. Because among a number of gems and a lot of adequate apps are too many that fall into the category of ‘must miss.’