According to experts in mass media, one of the main impacts that COVID-19 pandemic will have on societies around the world will be growth of anxiety and other mental health problems. The World Health Organization implemented a special initiative for mental health 2019-2023 for 12 countries. However, now in pandemic times, mental health is important in every society, not only in poorer countries. In this situation, technology can hold the key to protecting mental health. Can mobile applications help us manage our moods in times of isolation? Can they give sufficient support when dealing with fear of uncertainty of the future? If the answer is “yes” then what kinds of tools should get our attention in terms of providing good user experience?
Do you remember how you felt 5 days ago? And what about two weeks ago? Are there any changes between your mood today and at the end of March 2020? Do you know how many days in a row you were stressed out? Do you know what factor triggered it and why?
It is hard to answer all those questions. The majority of us do not monitor our mental health daily. Do not get me wrong, I am not in favor of self-diagnosing or making some health-related assumptions, but being aware of how our bodies and minds have changed over a period of time can be crucial in preventing some serious diseases. Seeing differences in our symptoms can trigger us to visit our doctor sooner rather than later.
We believe that technology can not only help people in their daily activities but also in serious issues such as physical and mental health. That is why I started to look for technology’s answer to these kinds of problems.
Technology in service
Technology has given us the solution to the abovementioned problems – mental health apps. According to an AMI (Absolute Markets Insights) report, the global market of all mental health apps was valued at almost $590 million in 2018. By 2027 AMI expects that this number will grow by almost 24%. It is caused by the constantly growing awareness of mental health in societies by organizations like WHO.
The market provides us with apps for meditation, guides for relaxation and breathing techniques, therapy apps for remote contact with therapists, mental health trackers, support in cognitive behavioral therapy, and many more for groups of users with specific mental disorders. As you can see it is a wide field.
At the present time I decided to research only the area of applications for mental health tracking. I checked how they help people with everyday mental struggles and the quality of tools provided. Based on that I picked a few functions useful from the user perspective and then chose a few good practices from the most popular mental health trackers that improve their user experience.
A user perspective
If we consider what users need in a mental health tracker, we can assume that it would be a clear interface with easy data recording functions and esthetic data summaries.
This kind of application encourages users to share information about sensitive topics, making it necessary to give special priority to a sympathetic tone of communication – the user needs to have a feeling of being mentally supported. Getting to know ourselves better involves reminding ourselves about things that happened in the past, meaning that journaling may be a crucial thing in a mental tracking app. Below I gathered a few examples in those fields that can be inspirational in designing for tracking health purposes.
Read also: Developing design system – patterns
Checking your moods
We may think that in our busy lives, tracking our mood regularly should takes as little time as possible but as in many other applications we still need to give users choice. They may want to elaborate more on their mood or just want to pass through an easy two-step process with few simple icons.
One of the applications that does it in a simple way is Reflectly. In Reflectly users go through a simple process where in two steps they can finalize checking their mood but on the third screen they get also opportunity to write more about how they feel in the moment.
When it comes to choosing a mood in Reflectly, users can choose on a scale. When they do this, the facial expression on the screen changes. That gives this us extra interaction with an application. It is helpful because defining our emotions is not that easy. Sometimes users can feel happy but they know that things could be even better.
Youper has a similar solution to Reflectly, but in the first step of the process users can define their emotions more precisely with the help of a list of common emotions. Then they pick on a scale how intense this emotion is.
A list of different moods should be easy to understand with a clear distinction between positive and negative emotions. Moodpath has a truly minimalistic and transparent way of picking up our moods. This whole range of facial expressions is in my opinion is also visually more attractive than in for example Reflectly.
Summaries of collected data
When considering user service, we need to show good data summaries to give them signals of changes in their health. After all, monitoring these changes is the primary reason for using such applications.
Sayana shows users results in two colorful circle diagrams – for positive and negative emotions. Under the diagrams, users can find tags that are a key to those colors. It looks nice and is really clear. Additionally, users get a text summary of the last few days.
Pic. Data summary in Sayana
In Youper users can check their symptoms for specific kinds of mental disorders. They see changes in time and predictions for the future on the graph, which is valuable when it comes to considering potential contact with a mental health specialist.
Pic. Data summary in Youper
Users need to have access to data from the past to see not only trends but also important events that occurred and made a difference to their way of thinking or feeling. That is why journals should be a major aspect of mental health tracking apps.
Moodpath has an individual place on the menu for the journal, the best way to place such notes. The journal is shown really clearly as a calendar with colorful marks. Each color represents a different mental state.
Pic. Calendar in Moodpath
Users can click on a specific day and see details about moods from three times each day. This way of displaying days is quite easy to use because it matches the real-world – people are used to the fact that journals in real-life work in quite the same way.
Pic. Calendar in Moodpath
In Youper the journal is displayed as cards that you can scroll down. Maybe this is not the most convenient way of checking notes, but users also have the possibility of adding some notes to significant entries.
It can be hard to give users the feeling that an application can replace their best friend but informal phrases with a sympathetic tone can help the app resemble human behavior. There is one important rule that we need to remember – we want our communication to sound gentle but not childish. In such applications, we sometimes raise important and intimate subjects.
My favorite application when it comes to great experience with communication is Sayana. A journey with Sayana starts with perfect onboarding when the application encourages users to use their earphones.
The user being led step-by-step with relaxing music and a woman’s voice reading all the information, making you feel like you are in the real world, sitting with your best friend on the sofa.
Sayana describes its functions to users in really informal way, like a friend, with a little bit of a sense of humor. Moreover, it has great illustrations that make the experience with the application even better.
As we can see in Youper, we can use chatbots in different ways of communication. Maybe it is not as good a substitute of a friend as Sayana, but in terms of using a different kind of navigation, an app such as Youper can provide good inspiration. It asks users a few questions and responds with self-tracking functions. The whole user journey takes place in this one space, being comfortable and convenient for users and saves their time looking for options.
To sum up, if you want to design an application to be a mental support for your user, you need to consider four important areas:
- Defining the user’s mood – give users a choice whether to elaborate or not and remember that there are a few degrees of a particular mental state or mood.
- Summary – show clear summaries of collected data with an option for sorting by time or mental condition.
- Journaling – give your users the possibility of collecting information on symptoms from the past.
- Communication – remember about copy that gives the user the sense of being cared for but not in childish way
I gave you just a few examples of good practices in a very specific field with the aim of inspiring you. As researchers and designers we should always remember about creating things for a better world and working principally in the service of our users.
Nowadays, focusing on the field of mental health should be significant not only for governments and health organizations but also for technology providers. The current pandemic can be an opportunity to consider how technology can help people with their daily dilemmas.