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can mood tracking prevent suicides? free-ranging interview with chris hall at healthcentral

January 19, 2011

in free-ranging conversations (interviews with wellness innovators),mobile health,wellness

my friend and co-health founder greg matthews introduced me to chris hall, director, clinical platforms at healthcentral. chris is intent on suicide prevention, and he’s working toward that goal through a mood-tracking tool, mood 24/7. i asked chris to walk me through how the tool works and what it offers individuals and employers.

fm: chris, what’s healthcentral?

ch: healthcentral empowers people to improve and take control of their health and well-being through more than 35 condition- and wellness-specific interactive health sites. what makes healthcentral different from other health sites is our focus on people living with and caring for those with life-changing conditions. our users have “been there” and have a deeper level of understanding for people with long-term health conditions. our users talk with and support one another, while connecting about their health conditions.

fm: now, what’s mood 24/7?Mood 247 Mood Index Screenshot

ch: mood 24/7 was developed by healthcentral based on technology licensed exclusively from johns hopkins university.

it’s an SMS- and web-based service that allows people to track their daily moods by text message. users pick a time of day and are prompted via text message for a text message response rating their mood on a scale of 1 to 10. these daily responses are charted privately and securely at the mood 24/7 website, www.mood247.com, where users can access their mood charts to visualize mood triggers and track their mood.

fm: what kind of action does someone take based on the info they see?

ch: that’s where it gets interesting. i recently interviewed a few power users, and they all said that mood 24/7 has helped them get to know themselves and their conditions better as a result. what i discovered from talking with these people was that we don’t always know the triggers behind our mood fluctuations. daily mood tracking serves as a starting point for that understanding. we’ve also established a sharing capability, where mood 24/7 users can opt to allow members of their trusted circle—friends, family, doctors—to see their mood charts as well. all they need to know is the email address of the person they’d like to share their chart with and we do the rest.

fm: since you’re providing information at one period of time, how does this help me isolate what makes me happy or unhappy? whether i’m happier at work or at home? or what are my triggers?

ch: that’s a question that comes up a lot, and being somewhat of a data nerd myself, i do understand the desire for more data. however, the beauty of averaging your mood once per day is that it forces you to reflect on the day’s events in aggregate and come up with a number for how you felt in general. one event could have ruined your entire day, and taking the time to make that internal calculation lends itself to discovery. mood 24/7 also allows for journaling via text message, so users can take notes while submitting their daily mood to help them further identify mood triggers and patterns from the website. we think this process makes it easy for people to add mood 24/7 to their daily routines, while also adding a great deal of value to their lives.

fm: is self-reporting accurate?

ch: we think so. in general, there doesn’t seem to be much incentive for people to lie about how they’re feeling among their trusted circle. in fact, dr. adam kaplin, mood 24/7’s inventor, relayed a story to me of a patient he hospitalized because he was able to identify in the mood chart that the individual was suicidal. dr. kaplin later asked the patient why he even bothered to update mood 24/7 while seriously contemplating suicide, and the response was that it was part of a daily routine. the patient had woken up that day, brushed his teeth, combed his hair and got dressed like any other day… and when the mood 24/7 text came in, it was answered honestly without hesitation. it had become routine.

fm: that’s interesting, especially when you consider bj fogg’s work with stanford’s persuasion lab. he suggests that any new routine be latched onto an existing routine. that way it becomes more readily habituated.

ge healthymagination just came out with their mood app, moody me. then there’s intel’s mobile therapy and the military’s t2 mood tracker. these use smartphones and other technologies. why are you using SMS?

ch: we’re high on SMS because 91% of americans have a cell phone capable of texting according to the CTIA, and we’re focused on helping as many people as possible. we also know that every age demographic knows how to send and receive text messages. we’ll definitely be looking to open up the ways people can provide their daily mood ratings in the future, but based on its near ubiquity, we felt that SMS was the best place to start.

fm: what evidence do you have that mood 24/7 works?

ch: right now we have two unpublished studies and a lot of anecdotal evidence that mood 24/7 works, but i’m working very hard to get more proof. many of dr. kaplin’s patients used mood 24/7 in 2010, and we’re in the process of getting approval to study that data for outcomes.

fm: are any employee assistance programs (EAPs) or insurers using this as part of their mental health benefits?

ch: not yet, but we have some things in development that we should be able to talk about in the near future. plenty of studies have been conducted around stress and depression in the workplace, and we feel that mood 24/7 can add a lot of value to employee wellness benefits.

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read more free-ranging interviews with health innovators.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Matthew February 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Another good tool is http://www.moodtrak.com, which lets you track and rate your moods online and also update your mood by text message

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fran February 20, 2012 at 5:10 pm

thanks for the tip.

f

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