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Sad Scale is One Sad App

by John Moore | June 04, 2009

sadscale1While it seems that there are an unlimited number of consumer-facing mobile apps for calorie counting/diets, exercise, menstrual calendars and symptom checking, Chilmark has been somewhat struck by the dearth of apps focusing on mood disorders.  Not sure why that is, but we were pleasantly surprised when Sad Scale showed up on the iPhone AppStore.  Having used this app several times now, Chilmark remains severely underwhelmed and it is arguably one of the worst apps we have demo’d.

A core tenet of Chilmark Research’s which contributes to our perspective on consumer-facing applications and technologies is:

“Health is Mobile”

Health does not happen when one sits down in front of a computer screen, health occurs everyday in every action a consumer takes.  This is in large part what the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) uncovered in their first round of research under Project HealthDesign (PHD). RWJF has taken the next step in round two funding of PHD now focusing grant funding on technologies that support “Observations of Daily Living” or ODLs.  Earlier this week, RWJF received over 100 proposals for the ODL grants.

SadscalerateGetting back to Sad Scale, this little iPhone app provides the ability to self-assess one’s mood in three specific categories, Depression, Post Partum Depression and Geriatric. For depression, Sad Scale uses the Zung Self-rating scale.  Post Partum uses the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression scale and Sad Scale does not reference the scale for Geriatrics, simply referring to it as “Geriatrics Scale.”  Each of these scales provide a list of questions that are automatically scored upon completion of the self-test.  Upon completion of the test, scores can be charted and also shared via email.

Very basic, simple straight forward app, so what’s not to like?

The app is nothing more than a series of questions on the iPhone and no effort has been made to leverage many of the rich features that the iPhone API offers.  It is a simple questionnaire ported to the iPhone – nothing more, and seemingly a lot less.

The color choices for text make it difficult to read some of the content presented.

At the end of the questionnaire, it has a link to resources but these are nothing but links to the home pages of sites like the Mental Health America, PostPartum.net or American Geriatrics Society.  Could not these developers at least take the user to some truly relevant content.  Seriously, is that the best these developers could find?

When someone is suffering a depressive episode they may balk at going through and answering a series of questions like this, especially all 20 questions under the Zung scale – when someone is depressed, it is often difficult for them to even get out of bed and get dressed, so why have them go through standard questionnaire that provides no personalization and quick feedback that is meaningful.

Some suggestions to improve this app?

How about we begin with the RWJF concept of ODL, let’s provide the consumer an opportunity to record their self-observations as it pertains to mood.  For example, how about a quick mood question, how do you feel right now, at this moment in time with a simple color wheel to express mood and make color a back-end quantifiable metric for clinicians.

What about a simple open-ended question that they can answer on why they are feeling they way they are? If needed, one could also have a question with a multiple choice of common triggers to answer, including “Other” with a fill-in the blank.

Also, it might be useful to have within the app a timer that can be set that asks the user what their mood is at that moment in time.  This may prove beneficial in understanding at what times of day the user is vulnerable to the mood disorder.

Provide some meaningful resources including direct links to relevant content.  Don’t make the user have to look for it on some website.

Now, I am no specialist in mood disorders and I am sure that there are other attributes that could be added to the app that might be helpful for the consumer and even possibly the clinician, but I have close family members who do suffer from depression and it is a severly debilitating disease and it does, at least from this vantage point seem ripe for an ODL platform.  Downloading Sad Scale I had hoped that this may be the beginning of something interesting.  Unfortunately, this was the most disappointing (dare I say depressing) health & wellness app downloaded off of the AppStore to date.  This is one sad app, that even at the paltry price of $0.99 is not worth it.

9 responses to “Sad Scale is One Sad App”

  1. Josh Marks says:

    I actually like the Sad Scale app. I think it is more of a screening app that my doctor helps follow how I am feeling over time. Bottom line, I go to my doctor and not my Iphone for health concerns. The app got me talking about the subject…
    I am happy to see some company trying to address the issue instead of making video games.

  2. Chris Hall says:


    Love your analysis, and the fact that you shared ideas on making it better. Color and mood do seem like an easy fit. I’m intrigued by the possibilities you lay out in your post.


  3. With the open SDK there’s little stopping anyone developing an app with the improvements you mentioned (and some more) so i agree with the “Josh Marks” comment and am slightly disappointed that you were not more encouraging and positive on the general direction taken and the material contribution this company has made.

  4. Gerry Higgins, Ph.D. says:

    Have you heard of ‘Patients Like Me’?, which has been around for several years, and allows the user to track their mood on any electronic delivery system. It has been endorsed by NAMI, the Natiional Association for Mental Illness. I believe it is a bit better than ‘Sad Scale’, but I have not extensively tested this app.

  5. John says:

    Josh and David,
    What really bugs me about the Sad Scale app is that it lacks any creativity, leverages unique features that are only available in iPhone API and frankly, is not all that great for many a person who suffers depression. As I see it, most who do suffer from this or other mood disorders typically know when they are feeling “blue” When one is in the dumps, do they really want to answer rote questions? Unlikely. Believe we can move the understanding of mood disorders significantly forward if we had mechanisms to record moods either spontaneously or timed and also record triggers.

    Simple questionnaires are not the answer, but hey, I’ll give the developers some credit for at least looking into the mood disorder space.

    Thanks Chris and yes, the more I think about it, the more I am intrigued by the possibilities as well.

    I know PatientsLikeMe quite well and absolutely love what they are doing. Have actually talked to the founders about the topic of mHealth and mood recently.

  6. Luis says:

    I am sure this company is working on adding more features to it. They went from 2 scales to 4 scales. I like it.

  7. Kim Fulda says:

    I see the company has posted a new edition. It is NICE! It has more scales, it now plots mood and energy! Allows the user to email this information. It also has a notepad that can help depressed people with writing down their thoughts. This too can be emailed.
    The App now is very good 1.2 edition!

  8. […] first heard about the “Sad Scale” from a blog post by John Moore Analyst with Chilmark Research. John had given Sad Scale a pretty scathing review saying that whilst this was one of the first […]

  9. […] mobile app such as the positive one we did on Atlas of the Human Brain and the less positive one on Sad Scale.  If you are looking for even more frequent coverage of the mobile health space, we encourage you […]

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