Depression plays tricks on your mind, even when you are well. I’ve dealt with episodes of major depressive disorder since I was teenager and one thing I’ve noticed is that when I’m depressed, I find it almost impossible to remember what being well feels like, which makes me feel trapped and hopeless. On the other hand, when I’ve recovered, I tend to forget many of the warning signs and symptoms of an episode. My friend, mental health advocate Esmé Wang, calls this phenomenon “phase blindness.”
Keeping a journal or regularly logging in on a mood tracking app helps combat phase blindness, but I find committing to both of those things difficult, no matter how I am feeling. ThriveTracker, a new app developed by Adrian Cunanan, who has bipolar disorder, wants to encourage people to keep tracking their mood with a points system that can earn them real world rewards like gift cards and MP3 downloads.
ThriveTracker originally started out as a side project by startup ThriveStreams, which at first was focused on a mobile goal tracking app called Uptimal. By March, however, ThriveStreams had run out of money and was “transitioning back to bootstrap mode,” says Cunanan. The company decided to focus on ThriveTracker instead of Uptimal and spent six months working on it before it was ready for release.
“I asked myself what community I would like to serve and turned inwards to reflect on my own challenges with learning to manage bipolar disorder over the past decade. ThriveTracker is our first attempt to utilize technology to assist the over 20.9 million individuals affected by mood disorders and the mental health professionals that support them,” Cunanan said in an email.
When asked how his experience with bipolar disorder helped in the creation of ThriveTracker, Cunanan explained, “I had firsthand experience with the challenge of learning to manage the condition. I was able to empathize with my target user and use the creative and productive juices that normally accompany my manic phases in a sustainable way.”
“I was solving a problem for myself. Every time I meet with my therapist, the first thing asked is ‘how was your week?’ in reference to my mood. I am lucky if I remember how my mood was yesterday. Paper mood journals are impossible to keep consistently. But I am always on my smartphone. So my team started there.”
ThriveTracker wants to stand out by allowing users to earn points that they can collect and trade for real world rewards from Kiip.me, including product samples, gift cards and MP3 downloads. This is meant to motivate users to not only use the app regularly, but fill in all sections, which include “mood,” “sleep,” “self-care,” and a space for journaling.
In the mood section, you use sliders to rate your overall mood, level of anxiety, and irritability. Sleep lets you track the amount of time you slept and the quality of your sleep. Self-care includes sections to track counseling, medication, meditation, and exercise.
I think gamifying mood tracking is interesting, though I’m not sure how effective it will be for motivating users. I know mood tracking is an essential part of taking care of my mental health. Keeping a journal, on paper or in an app, can help me see if I’m at risk for descending into a depressive episode. But, as I mentioned before, it’s a lot easier said than done. When I’m doing okay, I just want to pretend that depression isn’t an issue for me, which means I tend to ignore all notifications from the three or four mood trackers I currently have on my iPhone. When I feel depression coming on, I’ll start using them in an attempt to ward it off, but once I am actually in the midst of an episode, I just don’t have the motivation to track my mood—in fact, I don’t even want to think about my feelings. The possibility of free gift cards won’t change that.
For people who deal with the same lack of motivation when it comes to mood tracking, Cunanan says that ThriveTracker’s rewards program is just its first step toward solving that problem. Other upcoming features include “reminders to both engage the user on schedule and randomly,” as well as “Mood Forecasting to both utilize the rewards engine to encourage mood entry when data is trending downward.”
One of the other key differences between ThriveTracker and other mood tracking apps is an upcoming feature that will give users the option of letting their therapists and psychiatrists see their data. The dashboard, which is currently in testing, could potentially alert a mental health practitioner when their patient’s data shows that they are at risk for either a depressive or manic episode.
“Although options exist for patients to self-track key mood data, no solution is available for mental health practitioners to track this data for proactive treatment for bipolar disorder and depression. This can result in the need for more reactive treatment and higher costs,” said Cunanan. “ThriveTracker solves this problem by pairing a mood tracking iOS app for the patient with a web dashboard for mental health practitioners to monitor their patients’ key mood data.”
He adds that giving mental health practitioners more access to mood data means that doctors and patients can potentially avoid the challenges and costs of emergency treatments or prevent crises that can lead to risk of suicide. Of course, this means a certain trade-off in privacy, but as someone who has experienced recurrent episodes of major depressive disorder since I was in my early teens, including ones that have impacted my ability to work or keep up with relationships, it’s one that I would seriously consider making.
ThriveTracker is currently pre-funding and is exploring three monetization options, including a freemium model with in-app purchases for advanced features (Cunanan suggests $1 per month would be the price point); a subscription-based dashboard for mental health practictioners; and a mental wellness software-as-a-service for health insurance providers.