March 1, 2021


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You can’t read my mind: a mood-tracking wristband won’t fix the mental health crisis

3 min read

Most of my vital data are monitored on tracking apps. Step count: negligible. Menstrual cycle: regular. Pulse rate: irregular. Screen time: cause for concern. I used to attempt to observe my moods, too, by writing down lists of each day’s grievances or triumphs, but in about 2010 I conceded that the summary was too often “foul” to make it worth bothering with, and have left them to swing and careen ever since.

In lockdown, our mental health has declined: 60 per cent of adults said theirs got worse in the first lockdown, and the same proportion are finding it even harder to stay positive this time round. For office workers, this is not helped by our now-lonely professional lives. Working from home means all the stress of a job with none of the camaraderie. Problems, when they arise, are doubled: there is nobody in front of whom I ought to behave, so my tantrums rage disproportionately, and because I am alone, there is no way for colleagues to know that I’m on edge.

Data shows who is coping

An app called Moodbeam proposes a solution: employees wear a silicone wristband, and can record their emotional state by pressing a yellow button if they’re feeling happy, or a blue button if they’re sad. The data is then sent to friends, colleagues, or managers, who can view a “dashboard” and see who is coping and who is not.

At the moment, I’d be flatlining until about 11am. Wake up: BLUE! Morning meeting: BLUE! Forgot the word for “exaggerate”: BLUE! Then it occurs to me to have some leftover curry: YELLOW! and we’re steady for a few hours while I edit some nice articles: YELLOW! until the internet crashes: BLUE BLUE! or it’s time to start replying to emails: BLUE BLUE BLUE!

The Moodbeam wearable allows users to log their moods (Photo: Rhiannon Williams/i)

Quite an alarming daily graph for my boss to receive, I expect, and were they to try to come to a conclusion about my wellbeing, it would be entirely insufficient: I very much enjoy my job (and I’m not just saying that because my superiors will read this). I am also emotionally incontinent and have no trouble sharing what I’m feeling most of the time – my button bashing would provide about four times the data than the rest of my colleagues combined.

What do bosses do about it?

Perhaps, for those who find it harder to open up when they are struggling, such a system might be a more comfortable way to discreetly sound the alarm. But once they have, what are their bosses to do about it? Check in with the people in the blue camp, and not bother with those in the yellow? Feel satisfied and proud if a good bunch of them are hovering in the middle? A pat on the back for the happy, quiet ones for keeping their chin up? It is a clinical and dystopian approach, which might be well-intended, but which reduces humans to shaky statistics; to problems to be solved.

At my lowest and most burned out, hammering on a rubbery button would have felt an inappropriate and incomplete way of articulating my stress, frustration, isolation and grief. A personal, open conversation does not replace the robust tools, support, and resources that we desperately need to curtail the mental health crisis. But it does, at least, remind the individual that they are valued and cared for and part of a team, and not someone else’s nuisance notification, the next task to be crossed off their list.



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