Sunday, 9 December 2012

Testing times.

Doctors have plenty of tools which permit them to determine just how much of a mood disorder a patient has. Some, with names like The Beck Depression Inventory and The Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, don't beat around the bush. They measure just what it sounds as though they will. Others revel in NASA-like acronyms such as the PHQ-9 and the GAD-7. However, they all measure distress whatever they're called. Not one will tell you, if you're not actually suffering, how well you are.

It's as if the medical profession has no real interest in wellbeing, only in illness and disease. While this isn't completely true, I think it is indeed the case that doctors and specialists focus their attention on treating the sick rather than on maintaining the well, rather like firemen spending most of their time extinguishing flames, and just a little distributing smoke detectors.

When I came up with the Moodscope idea, I was User No. 1. There were no others. At the time, there was no question of it being a tool that anyone else might also find helpful. It was simply a one-person project - a bit like Mark Zuckerberg programming Facebook to be nothing more than his own personal home page.

At the request of a psychiatrist, I needed to track my mood, but since it seemed to me that this ought to involve recording both good days and bad, I wished to find a dependable way of doing so - a tool that had been 'scientifically validated', meaning that it had been shown through rigorous research to do what it said it would - measure mood.

After hunting around, I came across a test called the PANAS (Positive Affect Negative Affect Schedule) developed by the American psychologist Dr David Watson and colleagues in the 1980s. 'Affect' is more-or-less how psychologists refer to what you and I would probably call mood. In its original form, the PANAS asks you to rate yourself on 20 different dimensions according to a five-item scale, then produces two separate scores; one for positive affect, the other for negative.

Needing a more digestible single score, I found a way to produce this from the PANAS's two results, and turned it into the Moodscope playing cards (which meant reducing the answer scale from five items to four). Dr Watson approved of this adaptation, and the American Psychological Association licensed us to base Moodscope on the PANAS.

But does any of this really matter? Well, if you're going to benefit from mood tracking, you should be sure that what you're measuring is actually mood rather than something else. David Watson showed that the PANAS does this, and recent research on Moodscope by London's Institute of Psychiatry shows that our adaptation of the PANAS also does.

As a way of managing your way through the next couple of months, I wholeheartedly recommend using Moodscope. And take a look at the powerful analytical tools which make up Moodscope Plus if you'd like to learn even more about what makes you tick.

As ever, please let us have your thoughts around the test that's behind Moodscope immediately below (click on the '[number of] comments' link).