illustration by Oliver Munday
myStrength Mobile App Extends Treatment 24/7
Mary is a single parent who works hard to support herself and her two children, ages 4 and 7. In addition to her work at a bank, she attends church, visits her parents when she can, and tries to keep herself fit through exercise and diet. She dates on occasion and has friends she tries to see once in awhile.
Mary also experiences episodes of depression and anxiety. For the past two years she has been in recovery from alcohol addiction. It has been difficult to attend her Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and see her therapist on any regular basis, but she does the best she can. She would like to see her therapist more often, but just can’t find the time.
According to SAMHSA’s 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) (PDF | 3.4 MB) an estimated 43.6 million (18.1%) Americans ages 18 and up experienced some form of mental illness. In the past year, 20.2 million adults (8.4%) had a substance use disorder. Of these, 7.9 million people had both a mental disorder and substance use disorder, also known as co-occurring mental and substance use disorders.
Today Mary is feeling particularly tense and worried. She knows she tends to overreact and worry more than she needs to, but once she starts thinking about all of the things going on and what might go wrong she can’t seem to turn it off. She has been doing pretty good, and is proud of her progress and recovery from addiction. Since she stopped drinking and started therapy, her life is no longer in chaos. Still, she struggles with managing her mood and anxiety.
Mary takes out her smartphone and opens her myStrength app. She has already set the app up with shortcuts to helpful videos and tools that have been tailored to her own personal issues and challenges. She quickly pulls up the video she wants on reducing worry. Take a deep breath, focus on the here and now, interrupt the internal chattering, relax. The video helps guide Mary on the steps to take to relax and focus.
She reviews some of the things that she and her therapist have been working on. The app has been set up to remind her of how to manage her feelings and racing thoughts. It is really helpful to have something to look at and not just try to remember everything talked about in her therapy sessions, especially when her anxiety seems to take over.
According to Monitor On Psychology (November, 2016), there are more than 165,000 health-related apps worldwide, helping users track their diet and exercise, monitor their moods, and even manage chronic diseases. Nearly 30 percent of these apps are dedicated to mental health (Novotney, 2016).
In May of this year Aspire made the web-based myStrength program and the mobile app version available to all of its employees. Clients with substance use disorders (SUD) were also provided access to both the web-based and smartphone versions. Starting this November ALL clients at Aspire are now able to sign up for myStrength at no charge.
myStrength provides videos, motivational content, brief articles, and many other tools for working on issues related to depression, anxiety, emotional trauma, and substance abuse. Information on topics ranging from anger management, parenting, PTSD, and the effects of different drugs is now available at the client’s fingertips.
Some of the tools ask a client to rate feelings, put in thoughts, create action plans, and monitor their successes. In this way, myStrength becomes a very individualized and personal tool.
The information a client shares in myStrength is absolutely confidential. Aspire does not collect any personal information entered into myStrength. While Aspire does track aggregate data on total number of clients using myStrength and on what problem areas seem to interest clients the most, no individual or personal information is tracked or traced to a specific person. This is true for employees as well.
In addition to the personal benefits of using myStrength, Aspire therapists, care coordinators, recovery coaches, and life skill trainers are discovering how myStrength can be a useful tool in “extending” the impact of treatment. While not a direct connection to the therapist (like a chat line or e-mail/messenger service), using myStrength helps keep the client connected to the focus of treatment and provides important motivation for success.
This extension of therapy means that at any time a client can simply log in to get personally tailored information and numerous tools directly related to their therapy goals. It provides coaching, reminders, and a library of information…. all in their pocket.
U.S. smartphone penetration is now approaching 80% and shows signs of slowing growth as the market nears saturation—since 2013, the rate has gone from 65% to 75% in 2014 and 79% in 2015. More than 93% of 18-34 year-olds have smartphones now, and more than 58% of those older than 55 have smartphones. We’ll probably never see smartphone penetration reach 100% due to socioeconomic, technological and cultural issues. DigitalGov, April 2016.
If a client does not have a smartphone or computer they can use a computer while in a session at Aspire. The clinician can work with the client to identify relevant content and print information to take home.
Aspire is continually looking for ways to enhance treatment and better serve an ever-increasing client population. myStrength is a tool that does both.
About the Author: Dan Brown is the Lead Clinician of Addiction Services at Aspire Indiana’s Outpatient Services office in Carmel, Indiana.