Screenshot of chat with Joy

Facebook Messenger Chatbot, Joy, Wants to Help People Improve Their Mental Health

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It’s not uncommon to track how much you walk, sleep or eat in a given day, so why not track how you feel? That’s the question Danny Freed, creator of Joy – a Facebook messenger app that monitors and tracks your mental health – seeks to address.

Unlike other apps and trackers, Joy is meant to be more like a friend. Through Facebook messenger, Joy sends daily check-ins, asking how you feel and what you did that day. Joy then uses your response to interpret your mood and respond appropriately. If you are feeling anxious, for example, Joy will offer you some tips that can help you reduce your anxiety.

Screenshot of chat with Joy

There are some limitations to how life-like Joy is. Currently, Joy can ask questions, but struggles to respond when you ask her questions. “Sorry I can’t answer most questions yet, I can only ask them. I’m getting smarter though, hopefully soon,” Joy responds when asked a question she can’t answer.

While talking to Joy is not the same as talking to a person or mental health professional, the highlight of her programming comes in her ability to track your mood. “Right now, [Joy] will generate a weekly report of your mood based on what you’ve told her,” Freed said. “Soon, she’ll be able to offer longer term solutions and therapies based on deep analysis of your emotions over time.”

The idea for Joy came after a close friend of Freed died by suicide. “I really didn’t know a lot of people struggle with their mental wellbeing or that mental illnesses are real, debilitating and potentially fatal disease until relatively recently,” Freed told The Mighty. “This forced me to not only recognize the impact that our mental health has on or overall wellbeing, but to learn about it — for my own mental health and also so that I could potentially help others that might be silently suffering just as my friend did.”

Approximately 20 percent of American adults will experience a mental illness this year. Joy is designed to help people open up about their mental health. Because chatting with Joy feels more like talking to a friend than putting your data into an app, Freed hopes those who use Joy will be able to use her as stepping stone to talk to others about their mental health.

“My hope is that the more people start tracking their mental health, the more normalized it will become,” Freed said. “This will play a big role in shattering the stigma against mental illness so that people feel comfortable seeking real help when needed.” Future updates to Joy may include connections to a live therapist who is professionally trained for those who need additional support services.

“Joy is always there, ready to listen whenever you need someone to talk to,” Freed said. “It’s a small step, but if Joy can put a smile on your face in the midst of a bad day, it’s a step in the right direction.”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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When a Girl in My Class Jokingly Said to Her Friend ‘You Belong in a Mental Hospital’

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It was an ordinary day in fifth period, U.S. history class. The bell hadn’t rung yet and people were walking in and out of the classroom. It was the afternoon and we are all restless, near the end of the school day. The bell rang and the kids in my class started getting settled into their seats. There were a couple of girls in the corner laughing and pushing each other around. I don’t know what exactly they were screaming and laughing about.

When everyone settled and they were they only ones talking, one of the girls yelled to her friend, “You belong in a mental hospital.” I’m sure they were joking, and I’m sure they didn’t understand how it could hurt, but it did. I have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

I try to let go of statements like this. I know people aren’t always educated about mental illness so when they say, “That’s so OCD” or “You’re acting psychotic,” I try to correct them. I try to explain to them how that can hurt, but this one hit me in the core.

I had just come back to school from a three-month stay at a “mental hospital.” (I prefer psychiatric hospital.) My mental illness had hit a low point and I admitted myself into a residential treatment center. Prior to this admission, I had been to two inpatient psychiatric hospitals for suicidal ideation and one outpatient, which unfortunately was unsuccessful for treating my OCD.

The way she phrased this was painful and made me enraged. Little did she know how brave people have to be when they go to treatment. Checking yourself into treatment and asking for help is ultimately one of the hardest things to do. Then, staying in the hospital and work on bettering your mental illness is a journey in itself, even though it is well worth it.

The way she said her friend  “belongs” in one because she was “crazy” didn’t go well with me either. The people I’ve met in these hospitals are the most amazing, creative, caring and interesting people I’ve ever met. I’ve made lifelong friends. The people in these hospitals aren’t “crazy.”

They’re fighting a battle in their brains, from which the symptoms are hard to deal with. It’s terrifying for them and, but we’re surely not crazy. Those people are there to get help because they know they are stronger and bigger than their mental illness. It’s not funny or comical for people to make fun of.

To the girl in my U.S. history class, or anyone for that matter, I hope you will think before you speak. Think about what you’re saying and who it could affect. Try to get informed about mental illness. We are all people. We are all different, but please, don’t continue to spread the stigma around mental illness. It only makes it worse.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

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Why I Don't Tell Doctors About My Mental Illness When Treating My Physical Health

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Ashley at 11 years old, smiling
Ashley at 11 years old.

I have struggled with mental health issues since I was 11 years old — more than half my life, for the most part. I can’t deny it and say it’s been an easy road. It’s been a constant battle, and in the past I often played the “what if’s” game. Now, 13 years after being diagnosed with a mental illness, I’m struggling with chronic physical health issues.

Now that I’ve given some background information, I want to talk about why I’m really writing this article. The truth is I’m frustrated, hurt and angry with the stigma our health care system carries for people like me who struggle with both mental and physical illness. It seems to me that because many of my doctor’s countless tests ordered (which I did despite the pain, sickness and discouragement it caused) all came back OK, it must mean I’m not sick.

When in reality, my appetite has completely changed. I’m nauseous many days and have severe off and on stomach pain. I have different intensities of shoulder and back pain, as well as a mysterious rash and can pee eight to 12 times in two hours.

I must be ‘OK.’

Instead of really getting to the bottom of what’s going on with me, doctors have been pulling out the “mental health card” and assuming they are tied together.

To tell you the truth, I wish it was that simple. Sadly, it’s not.

It’s not anxiety, stress, or my emotions being out of control time to time. To clarify, I do know these things can play a part, as it can with anybody with or without mental health issues. That doesn’t mean that’s what it is, nor is it the whole picture of my physical health concerns. I’m getting very tired of having to fight with doctors to listen to me, advocating for myself and telling them constantly, “I know my body, and I know something’s wrong.”

Now when I see a new doctor, I have sadly learned to only stick with the physical health symptoms and leave out any mental health information. However, I do include this information on the three to five pages of paperwork. I choose not to mention any of it unless they specifically ask, because I’m sick and tired of being judged by my mental illness and having doctors use this “card” against me.

I want medical professionals to see there’s a terrified young adult who just wants answers as to why she has these symptoms. My hope and prayer is someday doctors will be able to look past my mental illness and address the physical issues at hand.

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To the Professor I Told I Needed a 'Mental Health Day'

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Since I started college, I knew if I needed to miss class because of a mental health reason, then I was going to have to play up a physical ailment to use when the excuse “mental health day” didn’t come rolling out of my tongue or make it into my email. I usually just used food poisoning and bad sushi, but what I really meant was, “I’m having a panic attack and I’m not OK.”  Or even worse, “I’m so depressed I can’t get out of bed, let alone get dressed for class.”

Even so, I felt I was cheating myself out of my own life. If I couldn’t admit I needed a day for the mental portion of my health, wasn’t I creating more of a problem for myself?

I spent four years using excuses like those, until one day I gained the courage to send you an email, in which I used the phrase “mental health day” and “I’ll be back next class, but not today.” My stomach turned; I felt like perhaps I might actually have gotten a physical illness. It was all just a bad case of nerves and the underlying weight of admitting to an academic professional I didn’t have everything together.

But it isn’t any of those things I hold on to the most. It was the next day, when I went in to work. You happened to stop by the office and see me there, pale-faced, bags under my eyes, clutching a cup of coffee for dear life. I avoided looking your way, fearing the judgment I assumed was coming for me. You picked up your mail and stepped over to my desk to ask the five words I never expected to hear anyone say.

“Are you doing better today?”

For someone who has been struggling with depression, anxiety, stress disorders and normal college stress, I’d never been asked that. I’d spent four years of my life either faking my way through classes or creating an illness I assumed would carry more weight than whatever emotional baggage I had that day. Instead of laughing off my excuse as laziness, you came and asked if I was OK. You didn’t even have a backstory or know what it was I was struggling with. You simply took me at my word and wanted to make sure I’d come back to a better place.

In a world where mental health is still stigmatized and attendance is valued highly, thank you. Thank you for understanding that even though the words were easy for you to read, they weren’t easy for me to convey. Thank you for doing the one thing I never expected: treating me with respect, like a human being. I will carry that memory with me long past graduation.

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Demi Lovato Made a Bold Statement About Mental Illness at the Democratic National Convention

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Speaking on the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, PA on Monday, singer and outspoken mental health advocate Demi Lovato used her time on stage to talk about how politicians need to support laws that make mental health care more accessible.

She said:

“Like millions of Americans, I am living with mental illness. But I am lucky. I had the resources and support to get treatment at a top facility. Unfortunately, too many Americans from all walks of life don’t get help, either because they fear the stigma or cannot afford treatment.

Untreated mental illness can lead to devastating consequences, including suicide, substance abuse, and long-term medical issues. We can do better. Every one of us can make a difference. By getting educated on this epidemic and its frightening statistics and by breaking the stigma, I urge every politician to support laws that will provide access to better healthcare and support for everyone.

This is not about politics. It’s simply the right thing to do. I’m doing my very small part by having the treatment center that saw me through my recovery on tour with me, so that at least a small group of people, even for a brief moment, have the same support that I received.

It may not be a lot, but we have to believe every small action counts. I stand here today as proof that you can live a normal and empowered life with mental illness.”

After endorsing Hillary Clinton, she sang her hit, “Confident.”

No matter your politics, we’ll give that statement a round of applause.

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To the People Who Still Need Me in the Midst of My Mental Illnesses

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There have been so many days in the last 10 years that my mental illnesses have taken from me. I have been in the darkest of places, from which I never thought I could recover. My sexual assault altered the course of my life. It, quite literally, marked the day my old self died, and my new self had to start living. For years, I have battled the overwhelming emotions and feelings that come along with surviving an assault. I understand I am a survivor, and yet, there are many days where that title weighs heavily on my heart.

Almost two years ago, I was diagnosed with several chronic illnesses and autoimmune diseases. When I thought dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression was enough, those diagnoses hit me like a ton of bricks. When I had just started to find myself, I lost myself again. When I had just rebuilt the relationships I had let crumble and had formed relationships I felt would last a lifetime, the wrecking ball came back with one more massive swing. The building I had renovated came tumbling back down. Now, I am left with another building on the ground, and all I can do is stare at the wreckage, wondering how I’m going to pick up all the pieces again.

I have always felt the worst part of it all was after everything is said and done, I am not needed by everyone who I used to be needed by. Wanted in a social context? Sure. However, there’s a difference between the two. Even though everything happening is out of my control, I still understand it is my actions that make people only casually hang around or make them leave all together.

In the end, my exhaustion means texts get unanswered and calls are unreturned. My anxiety means I cancel plans, or I just don’t make plans at all. It is my weekly dose of Methotrexate on Friday nights that means I will never see anyone past 9 p.m. on Friday nights or before noon on Saturday. Being sick is hard enough. Fighting the isolation it brings is another battle, one  I’m still unsure I can win.

But, there is a small number of you in my life who still feel as though you truly need me. Thank you. Through the pain, the tears and the uncertainty, you are why I still figure out how to keep going. You are what gives me hope, the one thing I have always believed we all need in life to keep surviving.

I know there are so many of you out there who will read this and who will relate. Please, know I understand. Know there is help for you on the days when you don’t feel needed. Someone needs you. Collectively, someone needs our stories and we can help them survive, too.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 
If you or a loved one are affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-0656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
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