Virtual Hope: DOD Mobile App Supports Service Members in Distress

Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. — The “Virtual Hope Box” mobile app released by the Defense Department helps service members focus on positive influences in their life. Using the app, a person combines meaningful memories with relaxation coaching and distracting activities to help them cope when they are feeling down.

“It’s a supportive tool for people to help them remember the good in their life when they are feeling frustrated, stressed out, confused, lacking direction and less hopeful about the future,” said Dr. Nigel Bush, research psychologist at National Center for Telehealth and Technology.

The “Virtual Hope Box” puts everything in one, easily accessible place. Unlike other health-related apps which offer generic content, each user creates a unique and personal app by customizing the various sections of the app with items from their own life.

Users can add family photos, videos and recorded messages from loved ones, inspirational quotes, favorite songs, interactive relaxation exercises, affirmations, and reminders of successes and future aspirations. Users can also access games to take their mind off negative feelings, thoughts or situations. Also, with this app on their smartphone, the user can immediately contact support systems.

Providers will find this app a useful resource to recommend to their patients who are experiencing distress. In a clinical setting, a patient might set up his or her “Virtual Hope Box” with guidance from their provider and use the tool between therapy sessions. The app was developed from the physical “hope box” used by clinicians providing therapy for patients with thoughts of self-harm. Because mobile devices are widely used, a virtual version of a hope box was seen as a contemporary approach to a known intervention, extending its usefulness and availability.

“It’s a unique way to continuously extend in-person therapy. It can help patients reengage with their lives,” said Bush.

Recent research and testing has shown the “Virtual Hope Box” to be a useful tool for addressing many issues. Patients in the proof-of-concept testing included those diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and mood disorder.

The app was developed collaboratively with Department of Veterans Affairs and funded by a grant from Military Suicide Research Consortium.

The free mobile app is available for Android and iOS devices at the Apple’s App Store, Google’s Play store and Amazon for Kindle Fire.