120511chucknorrisIn last week’s column, I suggested that we all join in with the spirit of Positive Thinking Day and find the time to dedicate a day or more to exploring and contemplating the positive. If you did no more than think about it and jot down your thoughts, you probably received a benefit. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that people who got into the habit of just writing down three good things that happened to them every week demonstrated a significant rise in their sense of happiness, and it could last for weeks. The study also found that participants who wrote letters of gratitude to others didn’t even have to mail them to get a boost in happiness.

Yet many of those who greatly need this boost are often the least likely to seek it. There are millions of people in this country who suffer from severe psychological distress and neither seek nor receive mental health services. In addition to the stigma attached to mental care, the treatments are often time-consuming, expensive and difficult to access. Today under-treatment of mental health problems has become a global problem.

To address these challenges, psychological researchers are turning to technology in a quest to find alternate treatment delivery systems that can be more affordable, accessible and, most of all, engaging.

According to research published in Clinical Psychological Science, this engagement may be found in the technology-induced phenomenon of gamification.

What is that, you ask? It is the process of applying game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate people. This is done by using things common to games, such as challenges, rewards, competitions, status and achievement. The research company Gartner predicts that as early as next year, a new gamified service could emerge and instantly become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon.com. Within a year, more than 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application on the market with that intention in mind.

So it should not be surprising that medical researchers might hit upon looking toward gamifying scientifically supported intervention in an attempt to offer measurable mental health and behavioral benefits for people with relatively high levels of anxiety and provide this service with convenience, low cost and built-in high levels of engagement.

Sometimes just an uplifting quotation or hopeful message can brighten a day and improve one’s outlook. If you think that will do the trick, you can easily get the application “Positive Thinking” on your smart phone and scroll for a message that’s just the right fit for the day.

If you want to know whether those uneasy feelings you’re having are really serious, you can check out the app “depressioncheck” and quickly evaluate your symptoms. Through an easy-to-use questionnaire, the app can also help you keep track of your symptoms.

If you are a student of meditation and yoga, the app “Health Through Breath” can get you started learning breathing techniques to help you relax and find balance in life.

If the focus is children with asthma or other respiratory problems, also on the market is the app “Alvio,” which is designed to make breathing and lung exercises more fun for kids (and adults, as well). The goal is to significantly reduce the need for inhalants by getting kids to not only do the exercises but also easily measure how well they are doing them.

“SuperBetter” is a self-help app disguised as a game. The goal of this game is to make one feel more empowered, take on tough challenges, get support and encouragement, and change the things that aren’t working in one’s life. The quests in the game are designed to help the player better handle real-world challenges. You fight familiar foes that are holding you back and power up with activities that improve your outlook. Quests can also be customized.

For veterans and service members, the stigma behind receiving mental health care has proved to be one of the biggest barriers for treatment. To address this barrier, Julia Hoffman, a clinical psychologist at the National Center for PTSD, created a free app, called “PTSD Coach.” When sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder experience common symptoms, such as intrusive thoughts or extreme anger, they can hit the “manage my stress” button. They next input what’s wrong, including their current state of emotion and level of distress on a 0-10 scale. Based on this data, the app is programmed to provide an appropriate response. This can range from a relaxation exercise set to a preprogrammed music playlist that a user has found to relieve stress to a slideshow of positive images from a user’s own phone. If their stress level rates at a 9 or 10, though, it may offer the phone number for a crisis management and support hotline.

If you are prone to panic attacks and feel one coming on, with the app “Let Panic Go,” you can tap the screen in sync with each breath to determine how fast you’re breathing. For some people, this repetitive action is enough to slow down their rate of breathing. But if it’s not, the app will suggest a slower pace that a user can try to match.

As you can see, in the area of mental health care, it is definitely game on.

Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.

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