BY LOIS MAHARG
Looking for assistance with a mental health condition? If you’ve got access to the internet, resources are close at hand.
While not recommended as a substitute for professional help, said Dr. Sagar V. Parikh, a physician with the University of Michigan Depression Center, resources from the internet can supplement therapy. They can provide information and social support, encourage screening, and help track symptoms and monitor mood.
But there are thousands of websites and apps offering assistance with mental health conditions. How can you locate trustworthy sites and apps that are right for you? Dr. Parikh and Danielle S. Taubman, also of the U-M Depression Center, made several recommendations at a Bright Nights presentation on Nov. 13 at the Mallett’s Creek Branch of the Ann Arbor District Library.
Websites Endorsed by the U-M Depression Center
The Depression Center endorses five websites as helpful and safe for adults with mental health conditions:
- The Depression Center Toolkit, developed at U-M, offering assistance for people with depression, stress and anxiety problems, and bipolar disorder; and for families, caregivers and friends of people with mood disorders.
- moodgym, offering interactive lessons in cognitive behavioral therapy for people with depression and anxiety
- This Way Up, offering clinician-guided and self-help courses for people with depression and anxiety
- Mental Health Online, providing comprehensive services and programs free of charge for people experiencing anxiety, panic attacks and depression (funded by Australia’s Federal Department of Health)
- Beating the Blues, offering computerized cognitive behavioral therapy for people with depression and anxiety
Evaluating Websites on Your Own
Other websites and mental health apps may be excellent resources, too. But take care to screen them beforehand to determine if they’re safe and likely to be effective. Evaluate them using the following questions as guides:
- How recently was the site or app created or updated? Avoid resources that are outdated by looking for sites and apps with information that is current or dated within the past 5 years. Date of publication or revision can often be found at the bottom of the page.
- Who created the materials, and is that source credible and reliable? Materials may be created by educational institutions, governments, advocacy groups and other nonprofits, private companies, or private individuals — some more trustworthy than others.
- Do the resources work? To find out, look for consumer reviews and endorsements from medical associations, government agencies, and other professional organizations. Also, look to see that the materials are based on scientific research.
- Are the tools and resources easy to use? Can you quickly find the information you’re looking for, and can it easily be customized to meet your particular needs?
- Can you share data from the site or app with a physician, psychologist, or family member by exporting it or downloading and printing it out?
If when evaluating a website or an app you’re satisfied with the answers it provides to these questions, then it’s probably a good choice.
A Website for Youth
Cognitive behavioral therapy as delivered to adults looking for help with depression and/or anxiety is boring for youth, Dr. Parikh said. So researchers in Australia and New Zealand have developed an online tool for adolescents in which CBT is delivered in the form of a game.
“Negative thoughts are turned into villains,” Parikh said, “and players get points for defeating the villains.” The tool is called SPARX, developed at the University of Auckland for young people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety.