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One of the pitfalls of depression is that because it tends to come in waves, the habits we gather while we’re feeling okay often fall by the wayside when we’re feeling rough. And while I’m a huge advocate of forcing yourself to maintain those habits during times of darkness, I know that sometimes, it’s just not possible.

Luckily, we live in a time where technology is literally at our fingertips. There’s a lot of junk in that app store, but there are also a handful of stellar apps that can help hold your hand through the waves. Here are a few of my favorites.

Created by game designer Jane McGonigal, SuperBetter is an app that builds resilience. Born after a traumatic brain injury left McGonigal suicidal, SuperBetter brings the concepts of gaming into real life. For McGonigal, this meant accomplishing Power-Ups like putting on socks and establishing Allies with friends and family to help her achieve her Quest of returning to a normal life.

The game is fully customizable. If you are battling Depression as your Bad Guy, accomplishing little tasks like drinking a glass of water, walking the dog, or getting up off the chair and moving around all generate points that count toward your win. Over time, these accomplishments create change on a neural level, leading to an overall more positive state.

screen shot of superbetter application home screen

MoodMeter is an aesthetically pleasing, data-driven app designed to help you track and shift your day-to-day mood. This can be especially helpful for those suffering from depression because depression is the great manipulator. One dark day can feel like it erases ten days of progress, but if you have visual data that proves you are ultimately on the upswing, it can be easier to manage those dark days.

screen shot of mood meterapplication home screen

Drawing on 40+ years of research and clinical experience by psychiatrist Dr. David Spiegel, Reveri is a digital hypnosis app designed to create immediate relief from pain, stress, anxiety, sleep problems, and more.

Hypnosis is a tricky word often associated with quack therapists or stage shows. But in this context, it’s more of an imagination tool that helps kick the mind and body into a state of active rest. It is a state of highly focused attention, where distracting thoughts are decreased and the mind becomes more open to new ideas and perspectives.

Each exercise takes about 10 minutes and can be treated like a daily meditation. The one caveat is that because the app is new, it can be a little buggy. But given the team of people behind it, including neuroscientist Andrew Huberman and technologist Ariel Poler, it’s likely these issues will sort out over time.

screen shot of reveri application home screen

Need a little giggle? Order one of my Fuckit Buckets™.

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may cause side effects a memoir book picture and author brooke siem

After 15 years of depression and antidepressants, my mission is to help people find hope in the name of healing. My memoir on the subject, MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS, publishes on September 6, 2022. Pre-order it on Barnes & Nobles, Amazon, or wherever books are sold. For the most up-to-date announcements, subscribe to my newsletter HAPPINESS IS A SKILL.

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For most of my life, I struggled with the assumption that people with letters after their name were not only smarter, more powerful, and more successful than me, but that the research they create is gospel. I’m not sure when or how this seed was planted, but it’s lead to a lifelong feeling of inadequacy—especially throughout my twenties. Doctors and scientists were busy saving lives and stumbling across eureka. Meanwhile, I made silly cupcakes for a living and couldn’t afford health insurance.

Assuming that all doctors and research belonged on a pedestal is also part of why I so easily accepted their mental health diagnosis. I knew I was depressed, but what did I know about how to fix it? A doctor told me that my brain was broken and that the pills I was taking did not have any major side effects. Who was I to question someone who spent 12 years learning how to identify and treat my exact problem? It is only since getting off the antidepressants that I’ve begun to understand how complicated, political, and often corrupt the medical and research system actually is. And this isn’t conspiracy. Bad science exists in every discipline—The Guardian even has an entire vertical dedicated to it.

While researchers are adept at sorting out bad science from the good, regular folk rarely know the difference, which can lead to a plethora of misinformation and ill-informed opinion. But I’ve learned a few basic strategies to help us plebians suss out the good from bad when it comes to mental health research. This is by no means a foolproof or comprehensive list, but it’s a start.

Where to find research papers:

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PubMed is a free search engine that primarily accesses the MEDLINE (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online) database of research on life science and medical topics. It allows you to sort by a variety of matches, including author, publication date, and journal. It also has a nifty search feature that will only give you results that include free full text. Unfortunately, the full text of many research papers are hidden behind paywalls, which leaves the average person stuck with nothing but abstracts.

Google Scholar is…well, the Google of research. Whether you’re looking for research on antidepressants or conifer trees, Google Scholar is the grand poobah of scientific information. However, because Google Scholar is a search engine and not a subject-dedicated database (like PubMed), Google Scholar strives to include as many journals as possible, including junk journals and predatory journals. These predatory journals are known for exploiting the academic publishing business model, not checking journal articles for quality, and pushing agenda even in clear cases of fraudulent science.

All this to say that before a paper is read, the reader needs to do a bit of due diligence to make sure that what they’re reading is legitimate. Even then, we can’t be 100% sure. Case in point: Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent research claiming that vaccines cause autism.

I know, I know. The number one rule in research is: don’t use Wikipedia as a source. Any old geezer (including you) can log on to Wikipedia and change an entry (any entry) to say anything and everything, which means that Wikipedia is riddled with errors and should not be referenced as truth in a research paper or reported article. But since we’re not reporting for the New York Times, Wikipedia is a good place to start because of the references listed at the bottom of each Wikipedia entry. The Wikipedia page on Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome, for example, links directly to 27 different sources on the topic.

But sourcing research is only the first step. With so much junk science out in the world, it’s imperative to learn how to identify the good from the bad. Here’s how:

Check the Citations

Google Scholar is one of my favorite ways to source research, but because Google Scholar is a search engine and not a curated database, articles published in known predatory journals may pop up in your search results.

pinterest graphic with open book and text overlay

The quickest way to determine if the article is legit is to check the “Cited by” number at the bottom of the search. If an article has multiple citations, it means other researchers are referring to the research in their own articles, which indicates legitimacy. It’s rare that articles are cited thousands of times like Eugene Paykel’s excellent study “Life and Depression: A Controlled Study.” With 1495 citations, Paykel’s study is the research equivalent of a New York Times bestselling book. But according to academics, even mid-single digits are enough to assume the research isn’t bunk.

Journal Ranking

While citations are a great place to start, they benefit from time in the system. Paykel’s article has been around since 1976, which means it has nearly half a century of research built upon it. New research won’t come with shiny citations, so you need to look at the journal it’s published in to see if it’s legitimate.

Academic journals are ranked for impact and quality by a system known as the H-Index. The H-Index is determined by the number of publications and citations. Higher H-Index indicates a higher ranking. However, note that the H-Index is not standardized across subject areas, so you can’t cross-compare across disciplines.

Find journal rankings by googling the name of the journal and the word “ranking.” The Scimago Journal & Country Rank (SJR) should be one of the first Google results, and that will show you the H-Index of the journal in question.

For layman’s purposes, the H-Index doesn’t matter too much. Think of it like the college system. Harvard isn’t the same as Iowa State, but that doesn’t mean that Iowa State isn’t capable of producing good citizens (and we all know question marks who graduated from top-tier universities.) The top journals produce great work, but there is still plenty of meaningful work to be found in smaller journals. A low ranking isn’t necessarily a problem, but no ranking is a problem. Junk publications and predatory journals won’t have an H-Index, so if a publication you’re reading doesn’t have a rating, run far far away.

Crosscheck Beall’s List

If the journal article doesn’t appear on the SJR, your predatory journal spidey sense should go off. Cross-reference the journal against Beall’s List, an archive of predatory journals created by librarian Jeffrey Beall. The sheer number of journals listed on Beall’s List is astounding, and it’s easy to see how naive readers could be duped.

Need a little giggle? Order one of my Fuckit Buckets™.

gold the fuckit bucket charm

After 15 years of depression and antidepressants, my mission is to help people find hope in the name of healing. My memoir on the subject, MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS, publishes on September 6, 2022. Pre-order it on Barnes & Nobles, Amazon, or wherever books are sold. For the most up-to-date announcements, subscribe to my newsletter HAPPINESS IS A SKILL

may cause side effects a memoir book picture and author brooke siem

More articles from the blog

see all articles

September 23, 2022

The Flowering of Human Consciousness

read the article

September 16, 2022

Three Weeks

read the article

September 9, 2022

Wanting

read the article

September 2, 2022

The Ashton Manual: A guideline for withdrawing from psychiatric drugs

read the article