Smartphone Apps Help Treat Depression

Smartphone Apps Help Treat Depression

by Hannah Joy on Sep 23 2017 8:13 PM
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  • Use of smartphone apps aid in treating depression effectively
  • Depression, the most common mental disorder is the leading cause of global disability
  • Majority of people who are benefited are those suffering from mild to moderate depression
Using smartphone apps were found to be an effective method for treating depression. It paves the way for safe and accessible interventions for millions of people worldwide, reveals a new Australian-led research.
Depression is the leading cause of global disability and is also the most common mental disorder. Despite the availability of mental health services, it is still an ongoing struggle to meet the demands of the treatment.

Effectiveness of Using Smartphone Apps

The research team investigated the effectiveness of using smartphone-based treatments for depression to tackle this growing challenge.

Scientists who were involved in this study were from Australia’s National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), The University of Manchester, Harvard Medical School, and the Black Dog Institute in Australia.

The research team has systematically reviewed 18 randomised controlled trials. They have investigated a total of 22 different smartphone-delivered mental health interventions.

More than 3400 male and female participants who were in the age group of 18 and 59 years were involved in the study. They had a range of mental health symptoms and conditions such as major depression, mild to moderate depression, anxiety, insomnia and bipolar disorder.

This is the first ever research of its kind and was published in World Psychiatry. The research team has found that the overall smartphone apps have lowered the symptoms of depression in people leading to these new digital therapies, which can be useful in managing the condition.

New Opportunity For Treating Depression

Joseph Firth, NICM postdoctoral research fellow, who is the lead author of the paper said that the findings of this study were significant, as it gave a new opportunity to provide accessible and affordable care for patients suffering from depression who might not have access to the treatment.

Mr. Firth stated that majority of people in developed countries own smartphones, and even younger people are significantly affected by depression.

Mr. Firth also stated that by combining with rapid advances in technology can be useful in providing quick access and highly effective treatments for individuals suffering from depression, which could reduce the societal and economic burden of depression, globally.

Professor Jerome Sarris, co-author, NICM deputy director, brought to light the importance of these findings and opened up non-stigmatising and self-managing avenues of care.

Professor Sarris said, "The data shows us that smartphones can help people monitor, understand and manage their mental health. Using apps as part of an ’integrative medicine’ approach for depression has been demonstrated to be particularly useful for improving mood and tackling symptoms in these patients."

Findings of the Study

The results of this study showed that these interventions are mostly applicable to those people suffering from mild to moderate depression because the benefits in major depression have not been studied extensively.

There was no difference in apps found that apply principles of mindfulness when compared to cognitive behavioral therapy and mood monitoring programs.

However, the ’self-contained’ apps, i.e., the app which did not rely on other aspects like a clinician or computer feedback were found to be significantly more efficient than those apps that are ’non-self-contained.’

The research team proposed that this could be due to the magnitude of the stand-alone apps than the combination of therapies.

Use of Smartphones in Mental Health

Currently, there is no evidence that using these apps alone can be more efficient than the standard psychological therapies or lessen the need for antidepressant medications, despite having promising results in previous studies.

Use of smartphones in mental health is a timely approach and an auspicious step forward, revealed Dr. John Torous and co-author and co-director of the digital psychiatry program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a clinical fellow in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Torous said, "Patients and doctors are faced with a vast array of mental health apps these days, and knowing which ones are helpful is imperative."

In this study, the results provide the needed information on the effectiveness of apps for depression. They also offer valuable clues into the types of apps which could help patients manage their condition.

Jennifer Nicholas, a Ph.D. Candidate at Black Dog Institute and co-author of the paper, said that future research is required to investigate the features which produce these beneficial effects.

Nicholas also stated, "Given the multitude of apps available - many of them unregulated - it’s critical that we now unlock which specific app attributes reap the greatest benefits, to help ensure that all apps available to people with depression are effective."