In an appy mood

Smart-phone therapy

Kimberly Knox has created an app to “empower” neurotics.
  • Kimberly Knox has created an app to “empower” neurotics.

“Give it a try. It can change your life,” exults Kimberly Knox, who’s convinced that Mood Watch, her new app for Apple devices, will make a palpable difference in the lives of those who fork out 99 cents for the download. According to Knox’s website, the app is designed to “help people with mood disorders live happier, more productive lives.”

Knox, whose prior patents are for items such as deodorizing chemicals for medical supplies, says that inspiration for Mood Watch sprang suddenly one morning while she was confined to a mental ward, courtesy of a bi-polar flare-up.

“In September or October of last year I found myself in a psychiatric hospital. I was ‘checked in’ but agreed to stay. At first, I was in a hospital here in San Diego County. After two weeks, they transferred me to another facility in Arizona, thinking that the method of treatment was perhaps…better. At about four in the morning I found myself in the art department (I don’t sleep very much). I picked up five colored pencils and thought, I’ve got to get my head wrapped around this. I’m driving myself nuts and I’m driving everybody else nuts; I can’t live my life this way. You think you know what’s going on in your own head, but most of the time, most people don’t. And certainly in my case I definitely didn’t.”

At the end of a seven-week hospitalization, Knox returned to her upscale enclave near Mount Helix in La Mesa and set to work on something she believed would “empower” users — not just manic-depressives, but a whole bevy of neurotics and perhaps even a psychotic or two. Knox subsequently contacted Apple who referred her to Adam Harris and Carson Whitsett, local app-masters who run an outfit called Ditty Labs. A month or so later, after an expenditure of “tens of thousands of dollars,” Mood Watch, anointed by a group of 24 “beta testers,” was offered to the public.

Mood Watch, at its core, is a compilation of user-entered data, largely subjective (with the exception of blood-pressure readings). It’s self-scaling fare. Users are asked to assign numerical values to their anxiety and energy levels and so on. Knox, who delineated five input categories, says, “There was nothing magical about the number five or the ones I chose; it was just where I was at the time.”

I asked Knox if there are potential security or privacy concerns with the app. What if the device is lost or stolen, or seized by the police? Could personal psychiatric information fall into the “wrong hands?” She stammered, “Well, I don’t know…what anybody would possibly…do with it. You’d have to be really nosey on the weirdest level.”

I also asked Knox if Mood Watch could prove more useful than an Excel spreadsheets or even handwritten notes. While she concedes that “Mood Watchers” will still be required to input the data, she says that the app “will tell them at the end a lot about themselves.”

She scoffs at the utility of old-fashioned logs: “Journal writing is great, but go try to find something in it. There’s no way to extract anything in a consistent way from a journal. The key value a journal has is the therapeutic element of ‘getting it out and down on paper.’” Mood Watch, states Knox, “produces a very, very nice graph at the very end.”

Trend lines aside, might constant mood monitoring be contraindicated for the afflicted target groups? Wouldn’t the depressive, the anxiety-racked, the obsessive-compulsive be better off not ruminating? Knox replies, “It isn’t a matter of dwelling on it. What you’re focusing on is yourself; it’s all about you and how are you feeling. Can you make it better?”

But wait, there’s more, she gushes. “It also doubles as an alarm to remind you when to take your medications.”

Knox sees a vast market for Mood Watch. “So far, I’ve already sold it in over 14 countries, places like Macedonia, Ukraine, Korea; it will be translated into six languages by May or June. I would like it to be global and be in the hands of as many people as possible — millions.”

Although she admits to “targeting psychiatric hospitals and institutions,” Knox says that she’s also going after run-of-the-mill psychiatric outpatient. “It certainly isn’t just for the few who are very sick, but for those with the depression that hangs on too long, the anxiety that makes you unsteady, the uneasiness [which] you know it’s not normal.”

Although sales are mired in “the hundreds,” Knox hopes that endorsements of the app by various mood mavens will spur interest. To that end, her website disseminates encomium by boosters like Muffy Walker, president of an “International Bipolar Foundation.” There’s also an anonymous therapist in Pittsburgh, “Dr. L.,” who exclaims, “It looks like you are doing a great service and I totally enjoyed working with it.”

Notwithstanding her enthusiasm for Mood Watch, the good “doctor” isn’t available for questions. Knox explains, “She’s a physician back in Pennsylvania who said that there’s a conflict of interest between her medical practice and endorsing something; she was concerned about that. Therefore, she chose to be identified by her initial rather than her name. She’s a real person.” (Knox admits that “Dr. L” is a clinical psychologist Ph.D., not an M.D.)

Knox, who describes herself as an “inventor,” is also hazy about her own academic and professional credentials, saying merely, “I have a background in science, I have a background in art, I’m a writer.” When I asked her how Mood Watch (which is marketed under the rubric of an entity called Invitation Only, L.L.C.) relates to her other work, she replied curtly, “It actually doesn’t at all. It doesn’t apply, and it has nothing to do with it. I want to focus on Mood Watch.”

“It’s worth a fortune. It’s really worth a fortune. It’s worth so much.” But, she bristles, “That’s not why I’m doing it. But I think I can make a fortune. I have a whole line of projects still yet to do; I don’t know where it’ll go.”

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