Virtual Assistance

“Those crazy millennials, always glued to their smart phones and computers! Always needing wifi! Not appreciating talking to people in actual conversations! Where did we go wrong?”

Ah, have to love the sound of older generations’ critiques of how young people are choosing to live and take care of themselves. As if we are completely inadequate when forming genuine relationships just because social media is a go-to platform to do so.

Recently, I’ve been hearing more about different websites and mobile apps that not only connect you to other people who can truly empathize with you, but there’s also now therapy services strictly online. You could choose to just chat with someone (still qualified) as if in a messenger-type app if that’s what you prefer.

The first question that comes to mind when considering these new options is, are they actually effective? Are they the same thing as going in-person to a psychologist’s office or visiting a support group?

With the proliferation of recognizing mental illness comes a new need to treat it. This has exposed the drastic gap between those who do seek treatment, and those who cannot. Over half of the developed world and going-on ninety percent of people with mental illness are not receiving the treatment they need. As the system currently stands, this isn’t necessarily something you can fix overnight when there aren’t enough professionals to account for that many people, let alone have those people under health insurance plans that allow them to visit and afford treatment.

That’s where mobile apps and websites come in. They have the potential to act as a digital bridge to alleviate the gap, providing at least similar services to people who would otherwise receive nothing whatsoever. Isn’t something better than nothing? Yes, I would say so.

But not all apps are made equal. If you search “depression” or “mental health” into the App Store search engine, you’re going to stumble upon a lot of apps that are either garbage, or just a big scam for money. Technology is moving much faster than science, so a majority of the apps you’ll see aren’t extensively studied in their effectiveness. Some could even be harmful. If people aren’t looking into what they’re downloading, then down the rabbit hole they’ll fall.

As a general suggestion, I would say to not rely on a free app for mental health treatment entirely. I would say the same thing for any form of treatment: if you can diversify your toolbox, you’ll be better prepared for whatever may arise.

The fact you could receive a form of relief in such a convenient, flexible medium demonstrates how far we’ve come in treating mental health at all. You can be connected to professionals, talk directly to them, or go solo by tracking your moods and practicing mindfulness.

Admittedly, I’ve used apps in the past to help me in therapy. When strictly focusing on my eating disorder, I was using the Rise Up + Recover app to input my food and whatever else at the time I was tracking to keep myself accountable. I’ve tried the trial run of meditation apps like Headspace to introduce myself to mindfulness in an accessible way. I recently downloaded Huddle just for kicks since it promotes itself as a safe space to form support groups with others and be extremely honest yet selectively private as you so choose.

There are also websites/apps like BetterHelp that are essentially therapy sessions you can conduct through text, audio, or video chat. You’re paying for actual healthcare services with actual counselors. Compared to the normal scenario, you’re saving money, except it’d be even better if insurance companies got on board with covering new unconventional platforms (and, let’s face it, general mental health care).

You have to evaluate yourself on if this would be beneficial or not. When it’s online and on smartphones, that brings about the negative side effects that come with addiction and overuse. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable dappling into something new, especially in an area that currently lacks research and evidence, and that’s okay, too.

I see this as the future, and we’re eventually all going in this direction. Heck, even for normal health services, never did I think I’d have an app allowing me to send messages to my doctor and read lab results right there. We’re at the forefront where there is still great ambiguity and unregulated progress.

There’s always going to be the pros and cons present, but the possibilities at this point are hopeful and exciting. As someone who rarely uses counseling services due to insurance coverage, lack of flexible treatment, and general lackluster results, this could be the start of something very helpful for many people.

What are your thoughts on online/mobile mental health apps? Are they more of a harm or a help?

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


Who’s Next?

A lot of this news goes back to my time doing Ground in Gratitude, so I really didn’t have a chance to discuss it.

But the news keeps coming. Someone new every day, it seems. It feels like what it would be living in the McCarthy era accusing each other of Communist ties.

Countless women are now coming forward to point out a past of sexual misconduct from male coworkers, men that just so happen to be in the public eye.

It’s a lot to take in. For some people fired on the spot, it’s hard to believe the claims, even as a woman myself proud that others are standing up for their rights and are brave enough to come forward.

There is no good or bad way to go about this, the process of accusing others, addressing it, and experiencing the aftermath. But when it all seems to ripple upon each other, the same message over and over again, it turns into the phenomenon associated with terrorism and mass shootings: we see the same kind of news and headlines, and we start to become numb to it all. We aren’t taken aback anymore. We don’t feel much of anything.

That lack of empathy hurts the most. When we’re constantly aware of every bit of news out there, numbers and names become less human. These are people, as real as you and I, facing some difficult burdens. And yet we can only do and feel so much before it gets far too overwhelming. Plus, these countless individuals coming forward, anonymous or not, deserve better than mediocre, half-hearted sentiments. They deserve action.

Again, I don’t want to somehow compare apples to oranges in referring back to gun violence in this scenario, but I’m getting this quick post out there for others who might feel the same way. When our dialogue surrounding current events becomes the same story over and over again, that raises a red flag. We have the energy to be so intent in keeping up and knowing who’s who, but we could devote more to moving forward, too.On that note, I and so many of us can probably make a personal connection to these claims and scenarios. Even on my campus, recently two footballs players were accused of rape and sexual assault. The administration later held an open forum for students to ask questions, and the answers were…less than satisfying.

Like so many issues, we’re quick to point out the flaws in the system, but we’re at a loss when deciding how to effectively address the problem and prevent its recurrence.

Admittedly, the problem of sexual misconduct isn’t all occurring at the same time: we just all decided to speak out about it at once, turning into a crowd of people all shouting at the same volume, trying to be heard. The men whose reputations are tainted are becoming a wall of faces, blurring out of immediate focus.

Those who have done wrong deserve to face the consequences. Besides the presidency (did we forget about that?), entities have done well in handling issues of sexual misconduct. But this is cleaning up the mess that’s always been there.

For however long it might take, we’ll keep seeing the news pop up with someone new at fault. Once this subsides, the real question will be, what are we doing differently? How are we solving this problem? Those who need justice will receive what’s coming to them in due time. I’m more interested now in seeing what comes next. Is it truly a phase that will just die down and pass by like another trend? Or will we start seeing headlines about changes in major industries changing policies and leadership? Let’s stop hitting the rewind button. I want to hear more about here and now: what can we all do now to make a difference and put humanity back in the recycled headlines?Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Day 11: Good News #GIG2017

Admittedly, it would feel off to see a headline that’s positive these days. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing happening in the background to celebrate, nothing uplifting.

Why does it seem so hard to come across anything uplifting these days?

Realize that I chose this topic for today’s gratitude long before so many actors have been accused as sexual abusers. Before a gunman fired his weapon in a small Texas church. Insert any recent story and it’s probably something that will make you think the world is ready to implode on itself and everything is becoming increasingly corrupt.

I get it. It’s hard to not be cynical when all you see is the same kind of message on repeat. By this point, it’s been drilled into our minds so often on a regular basis, we aren’t even shocked anymore. Like the Texas shooting. I mean, I was certainly outraged and heartbroken, but I sure wasn’t surprised. The actual event and its circumstances didn’t reach that emotional core that past events have. Even the heavy focus on the shooter’s mental health hasn’t fired me up like it usually does as we continue to misrepresent and overgeneralize the intentions of violent people.

Really, this is how it has always been. We just hear more of it because we have the technological capacity to. We can download news apps on our phones, even have notifications pop up when there’s breaking news, and when does something positive and heartfelt actually make that “breaking news” cycle? Rarely. You save those for the end of a TV broadcast to convince viewers, even just for a few minutes, that everything is just fine, that the endless tragedy and disaster mentioned in the past half hour doesn’t actually reflect what society is coming to.

And from my tone today, it’s hard to find that slither of gratitude that I usually pull into the mix. For situations like this, it really is hard to be grateful. I choose to not read much news anymore because it throws off any attempt to find hope and optimism. Despite knowing that each story is prioritized on my news feed strategically, that the headlines magnify what has happened to exploit whatever emotions it can muster, I don’t think it’s healthy to expose myself to those sources.

I truly am grateful for the opportunity to stay informed about my community, country and world. I am grateful to be able to engage in discussion and learn about what is happening around me and avoid ignorance of important current events. It’s my duty as a citizen of this country and world to do what I can. Except immersing myself completely in every update isn’t healthy.

In lies where I’m grateful for when there are gaps in the overwhelming noise to remind ourselves of our true nature, and that is to be and do good. I’m grateful to hear how others are making a positive difference in the world, big or small. For example, remember back to what feels like years ago when we all came together to support hurricane victims, the support and disaster relief efforts? How we stepped aside from our everyday lives to help those in need.

But I’m especially grateful for when we are supportive without having an extremely negative reason to begin doing so. Like supporting sexual assault victims long before the accusations of big-name celebrities began emerging. Or advocating for climate change before we damage the environment even more.

As silly as they may seem, I do really appreciate those random little videos on social media people share that talk about seemingly insignificant things, like some random new scientific discovery or a minute-long story about a baby animal, but seriously, what a refreshing relief from logging onto other news outlets. They might seem trivial if you’re looking for hard news, but there’s a balance we need to establish to stay both informed and emotionally sound.

I’m grateful for good news to provide that extra push we sometimes need to make a change. Too drastic of news can be debilitating, too large of a problem for one person to single-handedly address. But what about some inspiration from others doing good in the world? A single reason that not everything is going downhill? Little things add up to bigger things. And seeing how others, people just like us, are still trudging forward, even if it’s through thorny obstacles and muddy waters, can be that one reason a day becomes a good day.

I have always enjoyed the saying, “Not every day is good, but there is something good in every day.” We might continue to focus on every reason why we should be worried, terrified, heartbroken, angry, and pessimistic about the direction the world seems to be taking, but we’ll never be able to silence that sliver of hope and beauty that leads us back to the innumerable blessings in our lives. For every time something goes wrong, chances are there are many more things, now or to come, that ensure the sun still shines. That we will continue to rise each morning with something beautiful to live for.

Perhaps dramatic, but seriously. I’m so grateful for hearing good news. Something turning out well for those I care about and those I might never meet. A new reason to smile today. A recent discovery that might change our lives as we know them. Let us not diminish the value of these faint rays of light.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie