Sunday, July 31, 2011

War veterans fight PTSD with smart phone apps

From The AP:

When terrifying battlefield memories come rushing back, war veterans have for years had to rely on therapy and other low tech methods to cope in the civilian world.

But now veterans have a new weapon in the fight against post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - mobile phone apps.

'I'm not going to lie - when this came out, we sort of wanted to slam it,' a once sceptical Staff Sargent Meg Krause said of her group of veteran friends.

'But it surprised us and has been a phenomenal tool,' said the 29-year-old reservist and medic, who has had counselling for post-traumatic stress disorder.

A half-dozen apps with names like 'T2 MoodTracker,' 'PTSD Coach' and 'Breathe2Relax' have been developed by the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs Department, but not to diagnose illness or replace psychiatric counselling.

Rather, the apps offer at-your-fingertips information about what the military calls 'invisible wounds' of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - and techniques for managing the symptoms.

All but one were the work of the Pentagon, starting with MoodTracker, which lets users rate how they're feeling - worthless, happy, lonely and so on - and keep a record of their ups and downs over time.

The newest, released in May, was a joint Pentagon-VA effort - PTSD Coach.
It helps self-assess symptoms, gives step-by-step instructions in muscle relaxation and breathing, helps users create a phone list of people to call when they need support and helps vets contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline in an emergency.

'Someone who's struggling ... all they have to do is pull out their smartphone or their iPhone and say, 'I can help myself,' Krause said.

'To know that there is something that I can pull out and watch, and it will help me go through my breathing techniques so I don't get to that crisis moment, I think is immensely important.'

There's also an app for health care providers that includes definitions, causes and severity ratings for mild traumatic brain injury - or concussions - suffered by so many troops from roadside bombs and other explosions.

Another for doctors treating PTSD is expected in the coming months.
Officials hope the apps for troops, vets and their families will encourage more people to get professional help and will be used by others to supplement professional therapy.

Krause served twice in Iraq and has worked for the "Real Warriors" campaign, a separate defence program in which service members tell their personal stories to encourage other troops to go for counselling.

Finding others to talk about using the apps is hard since the free downloads are anonymous.

Preserving that privacy is a big selling point for a military population that hides its problems for fear of appearing weak or being passed over for promotions.

'Engaging veterans on their own terms is especially crucial in the area of mental health,' said Dr. Sonja Batten, a clinical psychologist who works on national mental health policy for the VA.

For now, what's known is that MoodTracker was downloaded about 17,000 times since it was introduced.

Since PTSD Coach was released in May, it has been downloaded about 11,000 times in 37 countries, including Mexico, Latvia and Japan.

Although the app is particularly tailored to the needs of active-duty troops and veterans, some users may also be PTSD sufferers with no military background.

Officials believe it's likely some are civilians who've had other types of trauma, such as from physical or sexual assaults, car accidents or natural disasters.