The irony being, I’m only writing again so the CBT man won’t tell me off
Since I last updated you, I’ve started doing some cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with my local wellbeing service. It’s been… a mixed bag, actually, but one of the more interesting bits of homework they’ve given me was to download and try some CBT apps.
I’d already been tracking my mood with apps like A Year In Pixels on iOS (free, with in-app purchases) and the distinctively-named Year in Pixels on Android (also free, also with in-app purchases). The apps have you choose a coloured square to represent how your day went – say, orange for “mediocre” or green for “great”; as the squares build up, they develop into a sort of superficial, glanceable overview of how good or bad your life is. Which – for me at least – lead to a whole bunch of existential dread, like, “Oh, shit, my life is overwhelmingly ‘average-day orange’; what a flat, repetitive, Groundhog Day-esque existence I must lead.”
There’s an app for that
Thank goodness for Moodpath, then. Available on iOS and Android (free, with the least obtrusive in-app purchases I’ve ever seen – see below), Moodpath was developed in collaboration with therapists and scientists and offers a far deeper, more reflective take on mood journaling, insightful fortnightly reports about your mental health and what your symptoms might mean, and even printable letters to take to your GP.
Moodpath’s brilliant approach to in-app purchases
Moodpath is ad-free and I didn’t even realise it had IAPs until I started writing this review. It certainly never asked me for any money.
Of course, when I did find out about the IAPs, I immediately set about trying to find them. But no dice. I did discover an apparent tie-in with an online counselling service, but it was buried so deep inside the settings menu, I can barely even think of it as an advertisement.
In the end, I reached out the app’s developers to find out what was going on. They confirmed they’re currently testing in-app purchases “so that we can make sure to sustain what we’re doing” (fair enough), and currently only in the US, which explains why I didn’t notice them.
When they roll out, the IAPs will limit access to the app’s “Moodpath Pauses” audio exercises; users wanting the full range will get a seven-day free trial, after which they’ll have to pay £6.99 a month to keep listening. In other words, the change should only affect Moodpath’s most hardcore fans – the app’s core functionality of helping you track, understand, and hopefully improve your mood, looks set to stay free for the time being.
Every morning, afternoon, and evening, the app pops up a notification asking you to check in: this involves a surprising number of steps, but each check-in only takes about a minute (so if you, like me, need to check in whilst hiding in a stockroom at work, that’s totally doable).
Every check-in starts with a bunch of therapisty-sounding quick-fire questions: Have you been thinking a lot about death, lately? Any trouble sleeping? Do you feel like you’re letting everybody down? If you give Moodpath any cause for concern – say, for example, you answered “yes” to that question about death – it’ll sometimes ask a few follow-up questions, and gently steer you in the direction of the nearest doctor and/or crisis hotline, which is genius.
Then, just like with those “year in pixels” apps, you’re asked to rank your mood by choosing a colourful emoji. Unlike those other apps, Moodpath actually hangs around long enough to ask why you’re feeling that way, by offering up a selection of freeform prompts to help you figure things out. There’s “your thoughts”, which I used as a sort of mini diary, logging things that’d happened since my last check-in and how they’d affected my mood. “Your emotions” presents you with a list of feelings, like “enthusiastic”, “confident”, “afraid”, or “tired”, and you simply tap whichever ones are applicable. And “your experiences” has you select events that have affected your mood recently, like “good time with someone”, “overwhelming task”, or “emptiness or boredom”.
All this data does get plotted on an attractive, glanceable timeline but, whereas most mood-journaling apps boil down an entire day’s worth of experiences into a cut-and-dry splotch of emotion like “very bad” or “quite good”, it’s easy to look back on your recent Moodpath check-ins and think, “Ah, yes, that was the day that I felt anxious because I made a mistake at work, but then I felt a lot better after I told my partner about it.” There’s actual substance to it – it gives you a really good idea of the sorts of things that usually trigger your symptoms, and what’s most likely to help you feel better.
So what’s the catch?
In a nutshell, the catch is that Moodpath is really good at spotting symptoms of depression, but its understanding of other conditions seems decidedly “ehh” at the moment. I’m sure this is something that will only improve over time – and, considering half of ADHDers also have another, “co-morbid” psychological condition, I’m still absolutely convinced Moodpath can be a valuable tool for most of us.
But there’s an element of “viewer discretion is advised”-ness involved in navigating the app, is all I’m saying. It’ll delight in holding up your ADHD symptoms and going, “look, more depression!” – when I received my first assessment from Moodpath after two weeks, it told me I was showing “indications of a moderate depressive episode” and recommended seeking professional treatment. The way things have been going lately, I have to admit it could well be onto something… but, about half the symptoms it cited (finding everyday tasks exhausting, feelings of guilt, concentration problems, etc.) just made me think, “Well, duh. I have ADHD.”
Whereas a human therapist would be able to make that distinction, Moodpath just isn’t smart enough yet – although if it spurs people to speak to their doctor and seek a more nuanced diagnosis, maybe it doesn’t really need to be.
One other thing: my partner, who’s been diagnosed with depression, printed his two-week report and took it to his latest doctors appointment, only to be sneered at by the GP because the graph on the reverse of the report, which purports to show the frequency of various symptoms, doesn’t show a scale. And… that does kinda seem like a pretty big oversight on Moodpath’s part, doesn’t it? The actual printed report Moodpath produced was a wonderful thing to behold, mind you, and the app did an amazing job of turning a bunch of scores and data points into a letter that sounded eerily similar to the one my real, human consultant psychiatrist sent me when he confirmed my ADHD diagnosis. It’s fascinating, and feels really futuristic.
Already into mood journaling? Moodpath will scratch that multicoloured-shapes-representing-emotions itch you’re feeling. It’ll also give you valuable insights and tools to help you understand not only how you’re feeling, but why.
Moodpath’s narrow, depression-centric view of mental health – and the disappointing omission of scales on its printed graphs – let it down, but it’s still a great start for ADHDers looking to dip their toe into the world of CBT apps for the first time.