It can be difficult to find mental health apps that are free, intuitive, and customizable. In fact, most of them only get useful when you give in and buy the premium versions.
Honestly, I rely on apps for the majority of my life; my daily to do lists are in app form, my grocery lists, my period tracking, my exercise tracking, my reading lists, and loads of Fembot stuff. But when it comes to mental health apps, I never seem to stick to the same one for too long. They’re either too expensive, too limited, or offer vague and obvious advice that doesn’t really help in the long run.
However, after much searching for an app that didn’t hit these annoying bases, I finally found one that had something useful to offer.
nOCD is an app for those with obsessive compulsive disorder; used to track compulsions, rituals, stress levels, and triggers. After logging all of this, you can use the app to give yourself some exposure therapy, and work on gradually decreasing the unconscious need to carry out the rituals, and lower the anxiety these symptoms evoke. Personally, I’ve found it very helpful so far, as stressful as exposure therapy can be it’s nowhere near as stressful as some of the compulsions I thought I couldn’t shake.
With this in mind, I talked with Patrick from the nOCD team about how the app works and how they developed such an intuitive program:
FEMBOT: Hey Patrick, thanks for speaking with me today, how are you this week?
PATRICK: Thanks for speaking with me, too! It’s been a good (and very busy) week at nOCD here in Chicago.
F: So what does nOCD have that other mental health apps don’t?
P: nOCD offers a set of research-backed tools for people struggling with OCD. The app walks users through specific treatment processes, and that sets us apart from other mental health apps currently available.
F: After using the app for say, a month, what results will the app user expect to see? What about 6 months?
P: The nOCD app can be used in a number of ways, but users following the ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention) regimen can rest assured they’re doing the most clinically proven treatment method available for OCD. The goal is to habituate over time to the anxiety caused by obsessions, while resisting the urge to use compulsions.F: What kind of therapies does nOCD incorporate into the app, and why do you think they’re useful?
P: Currently, we’re focusing on three different treatment modalities: ERP (which falls under the umbrella of CBT), ACT (a newer form of treatment called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), and Mindfulness. It can take a number of different tools to get better, and we like to help our users try them all.
F: As someone with OCD, I personally find it difficult to get rid of a ritual without simply replacing it with another. What advice do you have for dealing with this?
P: This is a really good question, and one that many people with OCD share. OCD is especially nasty because it seems to shape-shift, latching onto whatever matters to you at a given point in your life. It makes sense that someone’s compulsions (or rituals) would keep changing too. What researchers have consistently found is that increasing one’s ability to tolerate anxiety and uncertainty seems like the only way out of the cycles OCD creates. The content of the obsession and the exact nature of the compulsion are much less important in treatment than the relationship between obsession and compulsion. And learning to tolerate obsessions without resorting to compulsions will reduce the need for other compulsions. That’s why ERP is so successful for most people.
F: How would you recommend people stick with the exposure exercises if they find it distressing or if they don’t have a lot of time to do them?
P: That’s another important question. Sticking with something that feels uncomfortable can definitely be difficult. We’ve found that the incorporation of ACT and Mindfulness helps people, though. ACT is largely about figuring out what is important to you in life and learning to take your difficulties along with you, and when doing ERP it’s helpful to know why you’re doing it, what you’re hoping to work toward. Mindfulness helps people learn to be present and aware, grounding them even when the obsessions come on strong and anxiety soars. We also try to make ERP accessible and as easy as possible, so it doesn’t take much time and people are likely to stick with it.
F: Was getting funding for the app difficult? How was the process of actually coding and designing the program?
P: There’s a lot of interest in (and a ton of need for) better treatment solutions for OCD, and we’ve been fortunate to have people working really hard to make nOCD as good as it can be. That work continues as we speak, but we’re all motivated by our own (and our family members’) experience with OCD.
F: For all our budding mental health advocates out there who plan on creating their own app, therapy program, or resource website; what advice would you give?
P: Make the best thing you can! Lots of people out there need better options, and the need isn’t going to run out anytime soon. And make sure you include people dealing with whatever issue you’re addressing.