On Mental Health: Therapy or Technology?
With mental health apps, it’s “improve yourself”, instead of “fix what’s wrong with you”. That's what self-help should look like.
Over dinner on our staycation, one of my closest friends sheepishly revealed to me that she’d been going to therapy for months.
We’d been friends for years, talked every other day, and yet it had taken her months to tell me this Very Big Update that seemed to have changed her life.
Well, I was a little insulted but in hindsight, I reluctantly admit it was perfectly understandable.
After all, it’s never easy discussing all things mental health, even with the ones you know and love.
We had a long conversation.
She spoke well of her therapy sessions and highly recommended them to me (well, save for the speed at which they were burning a hole in her wallet). I told her I was more of a journal-to-myself, rather than a speak-to-somebody-else sort of person.
We agreed to disagree.
Different methods work for different people, after all.
Afterward, on my way home, I thought about how much courage it must have taken her to even recognise an imbalance, take the first step into therapy, and finally be able to talk to me about it.
Mental Health = Stigma?
Think stigma, the thick cloud of gray that surrounds the topic of mental health and therapy. There’s something about these topics that’s difficult to broach even at the dinner table, in the most casual of settings.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had my own share of struggles with mental health for which I never dared admit I needed help. My most well-meaning friends would pray for me, tell me to cheer up and to look on the brighter side.
I was always thankful for their efforts but there was more to it than feigned positivity.
Therapy back then hadn’t really been an option, for a far less open society that had yet to venture into clearer, freer discourse on mental health.
Even till today, I entertain the notion of going for therapy myself every once in a while but I am endlessly afraid of what the world might think — and well, the hole it’d leave in my wallet in the long term too.
But that’s the stigma therapy and its clients face far too often.
Today, it’s incredibly heartening to see topics of mental wellness make their rounds on social media. This generation is finding itself amidst more talk, more awareness and more participation in mental health discourse.
But it’s still difficult to realise how common these issues actually are.
Today, we pause to ponder extra hard on what should or shouldn’t be said, for fear of ‘making things worse’.
It’s still hard to suppress the first knee-jerk reaction you have when someone talks about mental health and to know how to help the person.
It’s even harder still, to know how to help yourself.
Before mental health applications, I wrote, rather than spoke, when I needed help coping with myself. There’d be the ups and the downs, that not everyone could deal with.
I found writing helped, but I wanted to probe deeper, and discreetly too.
Prompts from gratitude journaling apps were my first private foray into self-help, where I focused my energy on that which I was thankful for in my life. Some days, it was harder to find something to be grateful for but I searched my headspace nonetheless.
With practice, it did get easier.
For someone who enjoyed examining my own thoughts, this was a great start in learning how to organise them into little spaces of gratitude.
After all, I didn’t like having someone try to peer into my head and into my past, so I simply made it work on my own.
Intellect – A Startup dedicated to mental health
And then I discovered Intellect by pure chance, a Singapore-based mental health start-up well on its way to understanding the modern psyche. I naturally gravitated toward its guided journals; they sat me down with a safe space and an incisive one-liner and I got to work.
If you’re someone who articulates better on paper, journal therapy on your phone is chicken soup for the modern soul — for when you’re on the train, in the middle of class, or at the end of a long workday.
A digital safe space is for the little pockets of time when you need a stern talking-to from yourself, a pick-me-up pep talk, or just a little room for peace and calm in a panic.
And in these moments is often when you need support the most.
MindFi – Mood Based Meditations
MindFi, another Singapore-based mental health application, provides an array of mood-based guided meditations, while Intellect offers rescue sessions, curated for almost every not-so-nice mood. A calm, soothing voice rationalises your emotions from the day.
What these essentially tell you is, you feel the way you feel for a reason and that’s not your fault. But what you can do is become more aware of why and how it happens and manage it better.
Most of the criticism surrounding these new forms of therapy think it isn’t as personalised as it should be.
For a regular day, Intellect’s learning paths provide an avenue for the app to learn what you’re like and how best to help you. On MindFi, the courses are insightful lessons on yourself.
The selections get better and more personal, every time you choose the ones you like and the ones that work for you.
Life is a constant journey to know ourselves better
Funny, you’d think you know yourself inside out by now, but it’s interesting to find that sometimes you don’t.
For a society that undervalues mental health, these applications present a different perspective on therapy and on yourself, not as “a cure to some mental problem you’re having” but a “way to work through and cope with yourself”.
It’s refreshing and it’s endlessly positive in a way that I love.
It’s “live each day better with yourself”, “improve yourself” and “stay healthy mentally and emotionally”, instead of “solve your problem” or “fix what’s wrong with you”.
It’s an ongoing journey through life.
This changes the way we see mental health, but also the way we see ourselves, not as people with problems but people who can always become better versions of ourselves.
And I think that’s beautiful.
Disclaimer: All opinions are the author’s. SBO acknowledges that mental health applications are not a replacement for therapy should one need urgent, professional help.
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