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This Social Network Is Just For People With Depression

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Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
Refinery29 is exploring mental health topics as part of our partnership withClinton Global Initiative University.

One of the most damaging elements of depression is the profound feeling of being alone. But, a new social network and app promises to help change that, reports FastCo. The original site and new iPhone app — Panoply and Koko, respectively — both aim to connect anyone dealing with a mental health issue with other people in the same boat.

As Wired explains, the site came out of MIT researcher Richard Morris's quest for a faster and less-expensive way to improve mental health than what he'd seen in his experience with traditional therapy. Morris was also inspired by Stack Overflow, a site on which programmers can ask a question and get answers nearly immediately. It's sort of a nerdier, more accurate Yahoo Answers.

As his doctoral thesis, Morris created Panoply, a site for those dealing with mental health issues, offering "crowdsourced well-being." Emphasizing a reappraisal approach, the site encourages users to post their problems — and offer ways to reframe others' problems more objectively.

For example, users share something they experienced, such as, "My roommate came home and ignored me." Then, they offer an interpretation of that event, such as, "She probably hates me." Others then suggest a reappraisal, which might be something like, "She probably just had a stressful day." This is a version of cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on reframing our maladaptive thinking and behavioral patterns.

A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Medical Internet Research confirmed that Panoply's approach provided some benefit for those with elevated symptoms of depression in a sample of 166 people. Although Panoply (the original site created for the study) isn't open to the public, the app inspired by Panoply, Koko, is now available.

Social networking may seem like an odd mental health solution, considering that our use of Facebook has been linked with an increase in symptoms of depression. Still, other sites aimed at connecting people dealing with a stigma have been successful. For instance, Anxiety Social Net is a similarly support-focused site for those with anxiety disorders, and Positive Singles is a dating site specifically for people with STDs.

The key thing in all of these cases is that users aren't tempted to compare themselves to everyone, just to people they have something specific in common with. This way, instead of judgment, they'll find understanding.
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