Study finds smartphone apps may reduce depression

Depression is the most prevalent mental health disorders and a leading cause of global disability.
By Amy Wallace   |   Sept. 22, 2017 at 12:49 PM
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Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Research by Western Sydney University found that smartphone apps may be an effective treatment option for patients with depression.

"The majority of people in developed countries own smartphones, including younger people who are increasingly affected by depression," Joseph Firth, a postdoctoral research fellow from the National Institute of Complementary Medicine, or NICM, said in a press release.

"Combined with the rapid technological advances in this area, these devices may ultimately be capable of providing instantly accessible and highly effective treatments for depression, reducing the societal and economic burden of this condition worldwide."

The study, published Thursday in World Psychiatry, was a collaboration between NICM, Harvard Medical School, The University of Manchester and the Black Dog Institute in Australia.

Researchers analyzed 18 randomized clinical trials of 22 different smartphone-delivered mental health interventions with more than 3,400 male and female participants ages 18-59 who had a range of mental health conditions such as major depression, mild to moderate depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and insomnia.

"The data shows us that smartphones can help people monitor, understand and manage their own 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," Professor Jerome Sarris, NICM deputy director, said.

Researchers found that overall, smartphone apps significantly reduced depressive symptoms.

The study showed that smartphone apps were the most effective in people with mild to moderate depression, although the benefits for those with major depression have not been widely studied.

Researchers found interventions that used self-contained apps, or apps that did not rely on other aspects like clinician and computer feedback, were significantly more effective than non-self-contained apps.

The study showed no difference in apps which apply principles of mindfulness compared to cognitive behavioral therapy or mood monitoring programs.

"Patients and doctors are faced with a vast array of mental health apps these days, and knowing which ones are actually helpful is imperative," Dr. John Torous. a clinical fellow in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said.

"This research provides much needed information on the effectiveness of apps for depression, and offers important clues into the types of apps which can help patients manage their condition."

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