Sunday, August 06, 2017

the day that moodgym went behind a paywall

Every two years, or so the joke went, I needed to go into the moodgym. Ever since a bad sequence, first with depression with cause, then with a trainee counsellor, and then with a very slow sequence of learning emotional management, I stumbled across the moodgym. It's possible that I was just in a receptive phase when I found it; or maybe it is actually better than the other tools, but it proved useful. Whenever the wobbles started to become a steady veering off the road, back into the moodgym I would go and get back in shape. I especially appreciated the opportunity to do without the counsellor; who needs a little additional social anxiety chucked into the mix?

I'd suggest it to people, from time to time. Although you had to role-play being an Australian university student, that in itself was weirdly soothing; the online equivalent of the disassociative finger-wiggle. The anonymous web-forms kept your secrets. You decided when you'd done enough, how deep to go, and what to explore.

The UK versions all charge. Most of these things charge, in fact, and I wondered if they were better. As someone with mild to moderate depression I can sign up for the right sort of studies to try them out, and I kept and eye out and applied for one. I was assigned to the control group, though, which got Moodgym (hey ho). Going in with a critical, reviewer's eye though, was interesting. It was relatively simple, but then so is emotional regulation. Like the old joke about healthy eating being communicable in a single sentence (eat moderately, not too much meat) healthy thinking is almost as straightforward (think positively, be kind, solve or set aside problems). The difficulty lies as ever with habits and habituation. The gentle repetitions of moodgym help deconstruct and reconstruct these. The simple, undistracting design was a relaxing retreat from the hyperstimulation of online activity. It was good, I said in my feedback. It helped.

So to 2017 and I suggest it, again, and later get a gentle email enquiry sent through. "Free?" it says. I go check and discover that this product developed with public money has been spun out into a commercial enterprise and that moodgym now sits behind a paywall. Bah. Over a million users worldwide, it boasts. Well. I bet that's gone down a bit from its peak years. It's still way cheaper than the UK's finest, the Big White Wall, and has the added benefit that at least we know what's inside it; Big White Wall's description could as easily describe Youthnet's The Mix, an online information website with peer support forums moderated by, well, youth workers for the Mix and health workers for Big White Wall. For the amount they're charging I'm assuming there's more to it than that, but for £24/month I'm not going to be finding out any time soon. In fact, for AU$39/year I'm not going to be finding out how Moodgym's revamp went.

Not to worry, though. There's an American charity (yes, sorry, you're still roleplaying) called Anxiety BC which is making effective self-help tools available freely online, and you can build up a pretty good programme using their tools. There is content for all manner of different individual situations (check tools from the adults section too) but here are three things that are basically useful for everyone:
No online forms, sadly. You have to use an app (Mindshift) or print out sheets of paper. So yes, I do miss the simple, low stimulation web-forms of Moodgym (athough redesign, so that may have changed) and its closed, tidy structure. But similar tools are still out there, and still outside the paywalls.