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An app to treat depression, anxiety

Proper mental health advice can be one of the hardest thing to get. Two things that often makes it difficult are: opening up to others might take time and it needs to be timely.  Mental health should be a concern for all of us, rather than only for those who suffer from disorders. It is for the simple reason that it has a direct impact on the society.

Here’s some data to just to give you the magnitude of the problem:

  • Over 800,000 die by committing suicide every year globally.
  • 60 countries have less than 1 psychiatrist per 100 000 population.
  • Globally, spending on mental health is less than USD 2 per person, per year. It is less than 25 cents in low income countries.
  • Only 36% of people living in low income countries are covered by mental health legislation.
  • 60 per cent of countries report having a dedicated mental health policy.

Source: World Health Organization

Can digital tools help overcome mental health problems?

Given the proliferation of smartphones and increasing access to Internet, can emerging technologies help us address the concern?  A recent study has found that mobile apps can be used to lessen depression and anxiety. The study, conducted by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, involved 96 participants. They said they experienced about a 50 per cent decrease in the severity of depressive and anxiety symptoms.

The study said:

Participants had access to the 13 IntelliCare apps from Google Play and received eight weeks of coaching for the use of IntelliCare. Coaching included an initial phone call plus two or more text messages per week over the eight weeks. In the study, 105 participants were enrolled and 96 of them completed the study.

“We designed these apps so they fit easily into people’s lives and could be used as simply as apps to find a restaurant or directions,” said lead study author David Mohr, professor of preventive medicine and director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Some of the participants kept using them after the study because they felt that the apps helped them feel better,” Mohr said. “There were many apps to try during the study, so there was a sense of novelty.”

The algorithm recommends new apps each week to keep the experience fresh, provide new opportunities for learning skills and avoid user boredom. Although the apps are not validated, each one was designed by Northwestern clinicians and based on validated techniques used by therapists.

The study was backed by National Institute of Mental Health.

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