Monday, March 27, 2017

I Help You -- You Help Me

We’ve all had bad days. We’ve maybe had a shitty week, too. Usually, shitty days end and a new day begins and it’s better than the day before. A shitty week is often followed by a week that’s not quite as bad. For people with depression, however, it can feel like the “bad days” will never end, like everything is gray, always, and there seems no hope for better times. It can be incredibly hard to find another perspective to this grayness, or darkness that covers everything.

That is why Koko is such a revolutionary idea.

The app was first developed and tested in an MIT Lab by Robert Morris and his team. The idea when Morris studied coding and reached out to a community of programmers for help when he found himself stuck. The collective intelligence found in this forum intrigued him. He creatively took an idea from a field focused on computers to the field of psychology, and developed his PhD project called Panoply.

It seems that his motivation for the project was more intrinsic than extrinsic: Morris wanted to help people find solutions, make their lives easier through his innovation, rather than to "meet some goal external to the work itself, such as attaining an expected reward, winning a competition, or meeting some requirement" (Collins and Amabile, 1999). While the original project was explicitly focused on people with depression, Koko branches out much further to people with every day stressors—to anyone who feels they need a little extra support in their lives.

Koko offers support for and from people all over the world. Someone struggling with—say—negative thoughts about themselves regarding body image can post a short description of how they are feeling and what the worst outcome of the situation or thought would be. The community of members around the globe then help to “rethink” the negative thoughts and give perspective to the situation. An article in on describes that “Panoply [now Koko] works by teaching users a therapeutic tool called cognitive reappraisal, which tries to get people to look at a problematic situation from different perspectives”.

To give an example:
Someone is having a really hard time with body image. They might write something like

“I hate my body and am ugly no matter how hard I try to look better
 I fail, and no one else thinks that I am beautiful anyway”

And, as a worst case scenario
“No one will ever tell me that I’m beautiful or love me.”

The community might rethink these negative thoughts and answer something like this

“You are beautiful even though it can be hard to feel like no one thinks that you are. Maybe you can find one aspect that you do like yourself and remind yourself of this feature every day? You are beautiful!”

Koko is a two-way street. While it does not offer clinical support for individuals suffering from depression, it does create a system of support and can be incredibly powerful for people who feel like they need someone to listen and to give another perspective. Koko is free of cost, and thus can function as an additional tool for individuals who struggle with costs for mental health counseling and therapy.

On the other end, Koko offers a boost of confidence to those who respond and rethink. Just a little comment can mean a lot.

If you are ever struggling, remember that there is a platform out there to help you out.

Collins, M. A., & Amabile, T. M. (1999). Motivation and Creativity. In Robert J Sternberg (Ed.) Handbook of Creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press.


  1. This is something I have never heard but I wish I did! This is certainly something that can help the stigma of mental illness as well. The idea behind this was certainly more intrinsic than extrinsic, I just wonder about how it can be used to help with more than just depression. I mean, it could be used as a way to offer support with other cases of mental illness, such as recovering addicts or people battling eating disorders?

    1. I think that would be really interesting. A of right now, the platform is very open to any sort of message, which I think can be both helpful (because it targets a wider range of people) but possibly also intimidating.

  2. I have heard of self-help / mental illness apps like this! I think it's an interesting concept to use technology, now that's inundating our lives, to use it to help psychologically. But I also think that this idea comes with hesitation-- what if someone posts a potentially harmful comment... is there a mechanism built in that would maybe direct the person to get professional help?


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