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Can an app positively impact your well-being? – #015

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This week we have a topic that’s completely new to me. Mobile phones and the way that apps can impact your well-being.

Zoe E Breen is developing her own mental health and mood app and so started upon a journey of investigating what apps are already out there and what it is that they do. She was surprised that there were so many!

It’s really interesting to talk about the benefits of mobile phones because we’re often fixated upon the negative impact that they might have; the amount of time that we spend in front of our little screens and the way that it disconnects us from the world around us.

It turns out that there are apps for just about every possible thing that you could imagine… so we cannot talk about them all, and so we focus upon the ones that Zoe has found to the most useful, or most intriguing.

We talk about the ways in which these apps might be able to positively impact your mental health or mood as well as the ways in which they are limited.

The discussion also gets into the future of apps such as these with developments in A.I. and how machine learning is being used to work out more about us as individuals and what we might need at any given time.

Given that these apps are using a lot of data, we also have a brief chat about the importance of thinking about privacy, and ways that Zoe has been able to categorise apps so that she feels like she is able to trust them.

Not being experienced with apps such as these I wanted to know exactly what kind of things they actually do. It’s all very well downloading them, but what do they give back to you and in what form. Some of the apps require quite a lot of manual input and push notifications to your device, so it might be worth thinking about whether or not this is going to be a benefit for you or just another distraction in an already busy day. I suppose that the proof will be in the pudding.

Although this list might not cover all the apps that we mention, it covers most of them:

Remember that these apps are not intended to be replacement support.

Interviewed by Nathan Wrigley.

We hope you enjoy the show, please do subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. We’re always looking for feedback, if you have any thoughts or comments, please do reach out.

And remember… Together we can #PressForward 

Featured on this podcast:

Zoe E Breen

Zoe E Breen

Zoe is the founder of Care Labels For Humans, an early stage start up with the mission of…

PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

Zoe E Breen: 00:00 The thing that nearly all apps do is they encouraged you to make an appointment with yourself, to take time out, to reflect and to use tools that can help how you manage emotionally. Nathan Wrigley: 00:15 Welcome to episode 15 of the PressForward podcast. I’m Nathan Wrigley and I’d like to thank you for joining us again, and if this is your first time with us, I hope that you like it and that you find it useful. If you want to make listening to this podcast a regular thing, you can subscribe to us on your favorite podcast player and this can be done by going to wpn.org forward slash podcast dash feed today we’re going to be hearing from Zoe Breen. She’ll be talking about her journey, exploring the app ecosystem, seeing whether they can positively impact your wellbeing, but before that I’d like to tell you a little bit more about WPandUP. You see the PressForward podcast is created by WPandUP. They’re a charity working in the WordPress space to support the WordPress community. The help is freely available at WPandUP.org the work that they’re doing is important. Nathan Wrigley: 01:31 Many people have become involved either using the support that we offer or by joining us to help out. To give you an idea of the amount of work that’s been undertaken. Here’s some recent data for you. WPandUP have provided roughly two and a half thousand hours of companionship and mentorship. We have over three and a half thousand members. Our volunteers have donated $5,000 and they have been over 6,000 event attendees, so you can see that there’s a significant need for the support that WPandUP are providing. I’m always on the lookout for people who can help. Perhaps you’d like to help us out and get involved with WPandUP. If so, great. You can support WPandUP financially by visiting WPandUP.org forward slash give go. Maybe you’d like to get involved with WPandUP. If so, you can visit WPandUP.org forward slash contact or look for the social links in the website’s footer. You can also help us out by sponsoring the podcast just like green geeks have done. Nathan Wrigley: 02:47 The PressForward podcast is brought to you today by Green Geeks. Green geeks offers an awesome managed web hosting platform that’s built for speed, security and scalability whilst being friendly. Enjoy a better web hosting experience for your WordPress website, backed by 24 seven expert support and we thank green geeks for helping us to put on the PressForward podcast. Nathan Wrigley: 03:43 I don’t know about you but so I use technology all the time pretty much from the moment that I wake up until the moment I go to sleep. There’s some piece of technology close at hand, whether it’s in your pocket or on your desk in front of you. There’s always a device working as we do with technology. It’s easy to use our devices too much. We’ve all been involved in conversations in which we talk about screening time, but that for ourselves or perhaps family members, we talk about limiting the time that we have in front of the screens and reducing the number of services that can push notifications in our direction. This conversation often focuses on the negative aspects of the devices that we possess. What’s less common is to have a conversation in which we celebrate the technology and discuss the positive impacts that it can have. Nathan Wrigley: 04:39 We can talk face to face to people on the other side of the planet as if they were standing next to us. We can collaborate on projects with different people in different time zones, each leaving little messages to the other on some online platform. Generation ago, much of this was in the realms of fantasy, but now it’s real and it’s widely available. Today I’m joined by Zoe E Breen, to discuss an area of technology that aims to improve our lives. You see, Zoe has been using a wide range of apps to support her mental and physical health. For many years recently she’s been thinking about creating a mood and mental health app of her own, and so she decided to do some research into what apps are already out there. And it turns out that there’s quite a lot. So I started by asking Zoe what her reasons were for researching these apps. Zoe E Breen: 05:40 My name is Zoe Breen. Uh, I go by, Zoe E Breen and I’ve worked at a digital producer for many years and I’ve also used a variety of different health apps for many years, including a mental app is on physical health apps as well. In the last five years I’ve been working on developing my own product, which is called care labels for humans. It’s about bringing something into the face to face world that can help us communicate how we are and how ready we are to go into the world and to interact with other people. At the moment it’s a paper prototype, but I’m looking to develop it into an app but possibly something in augmented reality. So as a research brief, I thought I’d have a look at some of the Meta mental health apps that are out there already. And I open a massive can of worms, basically. Zoe E Breen: 06:41 Apparently is about, you know, hundreds of thousands of these things. So I’ve just really just tried to take a bit of a snapshot of what’s out there, what’s popular and what the themes are so that I can kind of put some, put some flesh onto the kind of research brief that I’m, I’m developing. So I just kind of give a bit of context. In terms of my own use of apps. Years ago I think it was probably maybe as early as like 2006 are used to use a website called mood scope. And it was devised by a guy called John cousins who does a lot of great work around moods and various factors. And it’s a site where basically it’s as if you’re kind of playing with a deck of cards and each card would have an emotional feeling attached to it. So maybe excited would be one of them. Zoe E Breen: 07:40 And then you kind of manipulate this car to say what level of excitement you feel and you go through, I think it’s 20 cards and each day that helps you to devise a mean score. You can add a journal to it and it, and over time it provides tracking. And it’s a nice word, cloud and lots of different visual models of, of how you’re doing a really great, another great thing about it is they you could choose trusted friends to receive an update of how your mood was doing each day. I think I then went through a phase where I was using call a fitness apps and things for like nutrition, like my fitness pal, weight loss resources. I’d be, I still use fitbit of use that for a while, but with the food diaries and so on. I just got this real fatigue of writing everything down all the time and so I actually went through a phase where I haven’t really used any sort of mood or mental health apps for a really long time. Zoe E Breen: 08:39 So what was great that was that the world has changed. The world has moved on quite considerably from 2006 and so I looked at and seen the kind of themes that are coming up. Things like artificial intelligence, the application of cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT as a map and also looking at mindfulness and meditation are huge. The Meditation Apps have a really big part of the market and have been really, really popular. So I’ve just been having a look at dig around and have to say, not a particularly scientific way, just using a technique for myself. Yeah. Nathan Wrigley: 09:28 I had to confess to Zoe that I had never downloaded one of the apps that she was describing and so I felt a little naive talking about them. I was not even sure of the purpose of such apps. Are they just showing you facts about mood and mental health? Something that you can study and think about or are they trying to assist you in a journey of improvement? Trying to get you from here to there? Zoe E Breen: 09:56 Yeah, I’m going to space as a general sense that they’re helping you to help yourself. That there are some sort of framework or science behind what they’re doing. So yes, awareness is like a starting point, but it’s also, can I change? Can I, you know, sort of like kind of keep an Ra. I sound what’s happening around me. What are things happening in my life that might be challenging and getting to know how you might respond to those events and somehow by having that earlier recognition or training yourself in particular thinking techniques that you might be able to have these impacts to have less negative impact on you and your, you know, used to sort of grow resilience. But I think, you know, I mean I, I look kind of broadly how Fox as well. I mean I think physical health apps do tend to be very much focused towards getting this level of weight or building muscle or eating a certain kind of thing. Whereas I think for mood apps, I use that as it a broad term as well that you know, there’s a, but part of it, it’s a benefit of, of self knowledge. But now there are sort of increasingly services that kind of artificial intelligence. It kind of get to know you and in turn you kind of get some kind of insight into how you think Nathan Wrigley: 11:28 Putting privacy concerns to one side for a moment. These apps are trying to assist you by learning about you. The more that they know about you, the more helpful that they can become. I suppose that this makes sense. If I meet someone for the first time, the conversation is not always as in depth as it is. After a few meetings, after several encounters with someone, you know what to say, how to offer support because you have an understanding about what they need and what they like. I wondered how the apps approach this acquisition of information about people and what benefits they might offer from knowing more about us. Zoe E Breen: 12:09 Yeah, and I think there’s sort of two ways that they do that. One is you kind of traditional sort of logging and tracking that you’re just adding in data and then reviewing it. Maybe there’s some advice attached to that. Whereas more artificial intelligence apps will learn you for what you do. So there might be more offering, a more personalized approach. So one that I’ve come across is called woe bot, which is an AI that I think corporate rates for Facebook. It, I think it’s like an error at the moment. That’s quite nascent, but there’s a lot more to be developed. One that really fascinated me. I haven’t you, I haven’t tested bought and I haven’t tested the one called replica or it might be replyca. I’m not sure because it’s a Rep, l r I K A and this is a fantastic story from the USA or so I think it’s just called genie. Zoe E Breen: 13:07 The woman who developed it, that might not be quite right, but they developed this AI app. She developed it after she’d moved to USA from Russia and one of her friends had also made from USA to Russia. Russia and I both worked in sort of AI and very sadly he was, he was killed in a road, traffic had accident and she started developing this app that was kind of replacing the relationship she had with him in terms of having a supportive pair and a friend. So, you know, and there’s another one that I looked at that it kind of creates, it’s called RMA. And I think that that comes from Japanese where it was kind of creating another, you, um, you know, there’s, there’s quite sophisticated stuff that can happen. Now I’m not claiming to understand it all, but it’s quite fascinating. Nathan Wrigley: 14:06 If you’re anything like me, you have an interest in online privacy. We seem to be more willing than ever to reveal things about ourselves to the apps on our devices. Most often this will be our comments, but it might be our location or perhaps data in the photos that we send. The nature of the apps that Zoe is talking about might also be using our data and using that to offer the suggestions that they do. So I wondered if Zoe had a process for qualifying apps or way of making judgments about whether or not they are trustworthy or reliable. Zoe E Breen: 14:45 I started off by just looking at our couple of recommendation reviews about what the best apps in this. Then I, um, canvas the slack on the pay and up to get some suggestions from that. And then as I started going through, I could kind of see features in some of them that some of them had a, were obsolete, so while there might be live but they hadn’t been loved for awhile. So I kind of screened those ones out. Um, some that on a second inspection looked slightly amateur like that they’d made an app, but actually there was a very flimsy, it was based on a lot of them are like personal projects, which are great. But I really wanted to get a sense of what was out there commercially. So they weren’t really, you know, I didn’t really sort of fit in that category. Zoe E Breen: 15:38 Um, and then as I was going through it, cause I think it had a long list of about 44 or know they’ve got a list of got down to about 32 and it’s not like a kind of top 10 or the best. What I was trying to do was get a spread of, of different types of apps in there as well. So as I’m going free this processed, I learned or was reminded because I did know about this before about a company called Orca that’s o r c h a and if you go to their website on orca.co. Dot. UK, they’re actually doing some really valuable sort of benchmarking and reviewing of apps. So from purely from a health app. So they look at not just made up to mental health apps, there’s like all kinds of health apps and what they’ll do is part of the process is to look at um, what they call clinical assurance. So I think, so they, they measure each app on sort of four areas. There’s not just measuring but it’s reviewing as well. So they look at the functions and features, data privacy. In the more recent reviews, they look at clinical assurance and they look at user experience. And then based on those factors, I’m looking at the app overall. They will give a score based on data privacy, clinical assurance and user experience. So it’s a really great website. If you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at. Nathan Wrigley: 17:17 I know that it might seem like I’m wearing a tinfoil hat, but I wanted to know if this orca website could itself be trusted. It would be easy to set up a website to endorse apps but not have the expertise to make the kind of judgements that they are making. Zoe E Breen: 17:36 Well I know it’s because I have been in touch with these people before. I think they provide consultancy as well, but I don’t know. I don’t know an awful lot about. It’s very thorough and it’s very well laid out as well and depending on what data’s available you need, you’ll get some really good, good sort of insights into the apps without actually having to use each single one. Yes. There’s another similar site based in the states. It’s called cyber guide. P S Y B E R guide works and they score the sites three measures, one’s credibility, which I suppose is this kind of scientific rigor, who’s behind it, user experience and transparency, which relates to privacy. So this is another site that you can use. Again, I wouldn’t ever assume that either release site exhaust deeply lift every single app because there are just so many. And of course the apps change over time. There’s new releases all the time. So one thing that’s really good about the Orca site is if they haven’t yet reviewed the latest version, they will say so on the site, which I think you know, really helpful. So like where I was saying I think the clinical assurance aspect is um, and new thing that they, they’ve kind of brought in so you’ll notice where they’re waiting for the review. That might not be included, but it looks like there’ll be including that the next time. Nathan Wrigley: 19:15 Given that Zoe says, that there are thousands of apps concerned with mood and mental health. I wanted to know if there was some way of categorizing them, a mechanism to filter them down. I’m sure that you’ve been to the app store and been oh for whelmed with the choice on offer. Zoe E Breen: 19:32 Yeah, so I’ve kind of broadly group them. So CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy is often known as evidence based medicine. It’s a very specific framework. Cognitive based therapy is like a set of techniques that therapists can use to help somebody to examine how they think and how they may be able to think differently about some set of circumstances or or events or about themselves. So there’s a lot of materials out already of eight available for this. But putting it into an app is kind of a good thing to do I think because it makes it a bit more accessible than writing out paper. If some, I love writing things down, I find it really helpful, but some people might prefer to have something they could hold in that you know, holding their hand and have with them and not have to worry about, you know, getting a pen and paper out. Zoe E Breen: 20:33 Sort of across apps, tracking and logging. A generally important is you’re looking at mood some way reporting. You’re may be that bias score or an Emoji or a as a common feature, but some of the most popular apps out there are for meditation, x exercises, so really well known, um, common headspace apps that bring in daily meditation practices. Again, they’re taking something evidence-based that meditation and mindfulness can help people, particularly to manage stress, but you know, lots of other aspects of the world, but being and making those into, a mobile app that someone can use on the go wherever they are. I’ve already mentioned artificial intelligence a little bit. A little quote here from an app called real life change. So real life change talks about me, me as a reflection of your inner self, acting like a trusted guide and delivery, highly personal and contextual suggestions based on your life data. That was quite something. Yeah. So yeah, I think they said CBT, AI, meditation and then some apps that are, you know, kind of fusing these things together. Pacifica is one that I’ve seen that does this. I think that’s one I’m going to try out myself because I was quite, it was quite robust. I like to give it a go. Nathan Wrigley: 22:07 I mostly use my phone for fairly trivial things, email, texting, taking pictures and so on. With this in mind, I started wondering just how beneficial and effective an app could really be bringing about change in my life. I guess that Zoe is not advocating using it for all things. So in what areas are they worthwhile? Zoe E Breen: 22:33 In my opinion, the thing that nearly all ups do is they encouraged you to make an appointment with yourself, to take time out, to reflect on how you’re feeling in a moment, and to use tools that can help how you manage emotionally. So I think that’s, you know, it’s about routine and building it into routine. So if you don’t have a moment in your day where you stop and say, oh sorry, how are you feeling today? How are, how are you feeling? How are you feeling emotion? How are you feeling physically? Are you tired? Are you hungry? You know, as someone upset you, are you really happy or you productive? So I think having a time or times during the day when we do that is helpful. Nathan Wrigley: 23:27 I like that idea. The idea of making an appointment with yourself a few times a day. Time to just check in and see how things are going. How does he do this though? How does it let you know that it’s time to stop and see what’s what? Zoe E Breen: 23:46 I don’t think I can, I’ve got enough experience of more recent apps to save up, but the running app at the moment is certainly on my case quite. Yeah, no, actually I have been testing another one I think. I think it’s the same with anything that you can, most of them. It allows you to choose what level of notification is you want, so it can be personalized. I think it’s kind of up to you. Generally. There might be a default of reminders, but I think most of them that will be, you know, to fit your needs Nathan Wrigley: 24:21 so these apps can send you notifications, which could be very useful. But I wondered if there were devices out there that could do more than just alert you on a set shed. You’ll perhaps they’re aware of tools that can measure subtle changes since things such as your heart rate or temperature and alerts you because they detect that you need to be warned about something right away. Zoe E Breen: 24:46 It’s not something that I’m aware of, but it does sound like that. It’s like next generation features. Very much so the maybe apps that exist for particular medical conditions that do that kind of thing a bit more. So I’m thinking about things like maybe diabetes or I think these kinds of things do exist. Those are very, very interesting bit of hardware that seen being developed called Moodbeam, which is actually a uh, respond and it allows you to lock your moods by pushing it a certain way and then that can be transmitted to somebody else that you care about and cares about you. So there’s so many things and so many opportunities and I think that five g is going to be quite massive for this as well because we’ve got all these, all this potential things that, that the artificial intelligence, quantified self, extended realities, stuff like voice, VR, augmented reality, mixed reality. You’ve got all these, but it’s getting the devices to the people that need to have devices a good enough and have good enough data access to be able to run them. So I think that is something that will become more and more possible as time goes on. Nathan Wrigley: 26:15 Although Zoe is clearly interested in the way that technology can support mood and mental health, I’m sure that it’s got its drawbacks too. Surely there must be instances where the technology is simply not a good fit or perhaps years away from where it needs to be to be useful. Zoe E Breen: 26:33 I think from my own experience, art can get fatigued from having to log a lot of things or having to, because sometimes it’s like, you know, we’re all busy, which is why we get stressed, which is why we need to use these apps, but you know, or you know, preventing or managing your mes or whatever. So part of it for me is, well, what load is the app actually then put in on me in terms of the are I feel that I need to like add this data or log something. And that’s why for me, I have taken quite a long time out of using these kinds of apps because I got to the point where I was logging my exercise, logging my food, and then I was like, do I have to look real? As well as wow. And I think particularly quantified self has a very important role pay because as you were just saying, if my device can tell that I’m stressed, I don’t have to tell it, I don’t have to write it down. So it’s like taking that extra, taking the labor out or, Nathan Wrigley: 27:40 so let’s imagine that you’ve listened to this podcast and it just peaked your interest. You think that you’d like to find some more of these apps for yourself and begin exploring what they might do for you. Where would be a good place to start looking for them? Zoe E Breen: 27:57 So I’m an apple person. They have the categories within the apple store, so the app store, apple app store, the categories, our lifestyle and as how one as well, can’t remember what it’s called, but and then you can go into each of those and it’ll give you the top paid apps and the top free apps. So that’s something I looked at as well. It’s interesting, I think it’s in the lifestyle side. They also grew up into that sort of a fortune telling like pop’s Palmistry apps. I haven’t tried any of them out. I thought that was quite interesting, but you know that sort of thing. It can read your palm or something and if you’re interested in newer products then product hunt is another good website to look at. So when I feed product hunt, I haven’t seen much rely just on the reviews that are on that. It’s just helpful in that I provides links for add android and apple app and sometimes a website for the product as well. We can find out a bit more so you can find out, you know, what is this based on, who’s worked on it, those kinds of things. I think it’s just because there are so many apps and it is hard to recommend or endorse any of the the best advices to learn these tools or you can use to like help your judgment about whether this app is the right thing for you. Nathan Wrigley: 29:27 I think that we need to be clear before we end that although some of these apps are very useful, we’re not implying that these apps are a replacement for professional support. Zoe E Breen: 29:40 Absolutely. And I think it can’t be seen as a substitute if it’s something that helps you. We all know that waiting lists can be long diagnoses can take time, but if you find that dipping into using some of these apps as tools is helpful, it’s worth a try. A lot of them have free or have free versions of them, although just to say on that there is actually are not now called Talkspace that links you in with a therapist online. So that is something a bit different and a bit new, it’s a US company and it’s kind of looking at connecting you to individual therapists. So there are things like that coming in to kind of disrupt the market, but I think is absolutely vital that medical resources and support a of people who have mental health difficulties and particularly in the case of severe and endearing conditions, that the fact that there’s an app should never become a reason why treatment and support isn’t available. Nathan Wrigley: 31:02 One of the purposes of the PressForward podcast is to lift the lid on topics that don’t get talked about enough to allow people to share their stories so that other people might listen and by listening they may gain and understanding that they’re not alone. There were other people out there who face the same issues that you’re facing. They have found a way through and can offer support to you on your journey. Maybe that person is already in your life but they might not be and that’s what WPandUP is here for. To connect you with the support that you need, the PressForward podcast is brought to you today by Green Geeks. Green Geeks offers a specially engineered platform that gives WordPress users web hosting that is designed to be the fastest, most secure and scalable hosting available in multiple data centers there WordPress hosting makes deploying and managing WordPress website easy with automatic one click install managed updates, real time security protection, s s d array 10 storage arrays, power cashier and expert 24 seven support to make for the best web hosting experience. And we do thank green geeks for helping us put on the PressForward podcast. Nathan Wrigley: 32:41 that’s it for this week. Please let us know if you’re enjoying the podcast. If you’re finding it useful or helpful, you can reach out to us at WPandUP dot org forward slash contact. Remember that there’s a serious point to all this though, and that is that WPandUP is here to provide help and support that help is available to you or people you know, and it can be easily accessed at the WPandUP.org website. Please spread the word about this new podcast. Tell your friends and subscribe on your favorite podcast player and remember together we can hashtag PressForward.

Nathan Wrigley