Americans are attached to our phones. Sixty-four percent of the population uses smartphones. We have the entire world of knowledge and keep it in our back pockets. Most of the time we use it for Facebook or browsing memes and cat photos. However, a growing number of people are starting to take advantage of the real power of instantaneous data retrieval, especially relating to medical applications and the information they can provide and the data they can collect. There are apps for education, apps for advice, apps for patient records transfer and also apps for research and therapy. Now, the public just has to learn how to take advantage of them.
Research is hard work, especially when it comes to running experiments with humans as subjects. The plans for the studies have to be reviewed and approved by ethics boards. Once approved, the research can move forward into data collection, sifting through the raw data to find patterns, writing up the conclusions of the research and, finally, publication of the results. Data collection may sound like an easy part. You just ask people questions, right? Not that simple. First, you have to determine exactly who should participate in the research for both the patients and the control group. Then the participants, well, participate. This applies to any study whether looking for drug efficacy or general attitudes towards groups, for example, people with mental illness.
In the past this has been extremely difficult. Finding the right subjects and collecting data from them can take years, but now we can rely on technology. Instead of the researcher finding the subjects, the subjects find the researcher. This happens through the wonders of the internet and smartphone apps. For example, the PRIORI project run by researchers at the University of Michigan published findings last year that the app they developed can analyze subjects’ voice patterns to detect changes in mood. Over 1500 people have signed up to participate in the study and it’s still going.
Another app, Companion, goes a step further. It uses your GPS location and analyzes what might be happening around you. That’s a big deal. We don’t always have the capacity to monitor our mood changes and the moods themselves color how we see them. An app doesn’t have those problems. It’s consistent and isn’t affected by emotion. Well, it is, but that’s what it’s supposed to do. You get it. All it takes is an app download that could possibly provide information that impacts how we view our mood changes. I don’t know about you, but that blows my mind.
There are other apps that are made specifically to aid bipolar patients in the here-and-now. They typically fall into three main categories.
- Mood Tracking. Users to track their moods by entering information about how they feel at certain points and have patterns shown to them. This goes back to the “not affected by emotion” benefit I mentioned. If you can be given information about mood triggers and patterns, it’s easier to spot them in the moment. Healthline.com has rated some of the best apps like these, including iMood Journal, eMoods and Moody Me. The latter allows users to take pictures to represent their specific moods. Most of these apps also allow you to create a summary that you can give to your doctor.
- Information. Like any medical education app, these provide general answers to common questions you may have in any given moment. Examples of these are iMind & Mood and Bipolar News.
- In-the-moment Aids. These apps aren’t necessarily restricted to bipolar disorder and an app doesn’t have to specify that it is intended for use by bipolar patients to be helpful. These apps basically create distractions. Whether it’s using calming music or noise, meditation aids or apps only intended for humor, these apps take you out of your current situation and help you reset. Examples of these are Bipolar Bear, BrainWave Tuner and My Happy Place, which lets you store photos, songs, links, etc. to a single app.
I rarely use my phone to talk to anyone. With the exception of my family, I try to avoid talking on the phone at all. I prefer text. That basically means that my “phone” is my tiny, portable computer and I can customize it to fit my life. Bipolar disorder is part of my life, so why shouldn’t it be part of my phone?