A Unique Blend of Research and Support for People with Mood Disorders
By Roberta E. Tovey, PhD
Director of Communications, MoodNetwork
Here's a staggering statistic: one third of people in the US today show signs of clinical depression or anxiety. What's the reason for this increase? According to Marizio Fava, MD, psychiatrist-in-chief of the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital “ ... the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to cause significant stress and psychological distress for a large proportion of the population. And we know the rates are progressively increasing.”
Living during the era of COVID-19 is not easy for anyone. But it is especially challenging for the many who struggle with depression or bipolar disorder, or who care for someone who does. The threat of a virus that is not fully understood, and whose trajectory is still largely unknown, creates the kind of stress that can easily exacerbate these conditions.
Now, more than ever before, we need to work harder to learn how to best treat mood disorders. We also need to provide more support for the millions of people who live with these complex and often hard-to-treat conditions.
MoodNetwork (moodnetwork.org), an online network for people who live with depression and bipolar disorder based at Massachusetts General Hospital, offers both a platform for research into new ways to treat mood disorders and a place for people with mood disorders to find community, support, and tools to help them cope in these difficult times.
Since the site was launched in 2015, MoodNetwork has hosted studies that investigate a wide range of potential tools and treatments for mood disorders. Can a smartphone application help track your mood, potentially alerting you to an episode of depression or mania before it happens? Can an online cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness intervention increase how much you exercise as measured by a Fitbit? Can mindfulness training help reduce stress, and if so, is the small "dose" of mindfulness training you can get in a four-week course as effective as the larger dose you'd receive in a longer, eight-week version? Does using a genetic test to help choose medications to treat depression lead to better outcomes for patients?
Other studies have included a comparative effectiveness study of medications for treating bipolar disorder; studies involving parents of children with mood disorders; studies about the impact of COVID-19 on frontline clinician stress, and a study that examines brain function in adults who have a parent or sibling who has suffered from depression and made a suicide attempt.
The over 6,000 members of MoodNetwork can choose to participate in any study on the MoodNetwork platform, providing that they meet the study's eligibility requirements. Many of those who have joined research studies like these say that they joined to help others with the same conditions that they have or to try cutting-edge treatments which are not yet available to the general public.
MoodNetwork members also can use a variety of tools, trackers, and questionnaires to help them assess how they're doing. Each member has a personal dashboard with a live graph that shows how one’s mood fluctuates over time; the dashboard also has links to questions-and-answers with our clinical team, "brain" games, and the MoodNetwork Facebook page feed. Members can also find support and a sense of community with others who share their experiences in forums and blogs.
In these challenging times, accessing available mental health resources is more important than ever. MoodNetwork embodies the idea that we are all in this together, leveraging the experiences of its entire community to seek advances in treatment and offer a variety of supports and tools for those with mood disorders.