Facebook is now redefining depression and a MIT student is trying to fix that problem. Koko is an upcoming iPhone app that aims to help people fix the bugs in their thinking by crowdsourcing cognitive behavioral techniques.
The creator, Robert Morris, grew up in the heart of Silicon Valley and got his undergraduate degree from Princeton in Psychology. He then moved to MIT for PhD work and discovered technology was never his first passion. The real operating system he cared about was the human mind and now is creating an app to help fight depression.
Morris began to understand the difficulty of computer science during is time at MIT and discovered a social platform called “Stack Overflow”. Stack Overflow, is an online forum where programmers help each other write and debug codes. A direct quote from Morris about his use on the platform:
“Whenever I had a bug or was stuck on something, I would go on there, and almost miraculously, this crowd of programmers would come and help me,” he says. “It was just this intuition that, just as we can get people on Stack Overflow to help us identify and fix bugs in code, perhaps we can harness a crowd to help us fix bugs in our thinking.”
This sparked a creative idea for Morris and lead him to develop Panoply, an online tool that crowdsources treatment for depression and anxiety.
Image taken as a screen shot from the website Depressionconnect.com
Panoply, was similar to Facebook, but instead of encouraging people to make a razzle-dazzled and positive self-image, Panoply asked people to post “What’s Wrong?” instead of “What’s On Your Mind?”. And once people posted about their problems the users were encouraged to help others see their issues in a more hopeful light. It created the feeling of a safe and open-minded social network commune. This platform became a social media experiment for Morris, by having 166 volunteers, who were asked to a join a social network for depression. The user was asked to describe what happened, like losing a job and then to try to quantify why that makes her upset. The point is to express these dreadful thoughts out loud so that other people on Panoply can help the user to get the “bugs” out of their mind.
Image taken as a screenshot from the website of MotherJones.com
A study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Internet Research, stated Panoply’s engagement tactics and its overall approach to improving mental health are actually effective. The results are as followed:
“Of 166 study participants who had previously exhibited symptoms of depression, those who spent three weeks using Panoply for at least 25 minutes a week ended up significantly less depressed and better at cognitive reappraisal than those who spent three weeks doing an expressive writing exercise, a typical treatment for depression”.
Image taken as a screenshot from the website of Aeon.co
The Panoply experiment and online tool lead to the creation of an upcoming mobile app, called “Koko” which is schedule to launch this fall. Why mobile? According to Morris, the biggest challenge facing anyone who is looking to receive or give mental health advice is staying engaged.
Morris states, “To be good at giving productive advice, or to think in a more healthy way, you have to practice, just like diet and exercise” A mobile app encourages people to “snack” on Koko throughout the day. You can spend a few minutes each day practicing positive feedback and thinking.
This new mobile app reminded me of last weeks guest lecture with Denis, who identified the distressing signs of depression via social media. When people feel sensitive or depressed, Facebook tends to make individuals feel worse. For example, there is nothing like reading peoples happy posts, and looking at pictures of them having fun, while you are just feeling left out. You begin to measure yourself against others, and feel like you could never match up. This is a leading factor to depression and this exactly what Morris is trying to fix.
Morris says he doesn’t want to confine the app to just a “depression app,” though he apparently prefers the term “stress-reduction”. He wants people to feel like they can use the app even if they don’t have a diagnosed mental health condition.
Currently the app Koko, is invite only and prospective users can sign up here.
Featured Image taken as a screenshot from MITNews.com