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Phone apps useful for management of anxiety, depression, study finds

Specially designed mobile apps can help those managing anxiety and depression, among other disorders, a new study has found. Photo by Pixelkult/Pixabay
Specially designed mobile apps can help those managing anxiety and depression, among other disorders, a new study has found. Photo by Pixelkult/Pixabay

Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Mobile apps designed to support people with depression, anxiety and insomnia provide relief from the symptoms of these troubling disorders, particularly under the guidance of a mental health professional, an analysis published Wednesday by the NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery found.

The study by Kaiser Permanente focused specifically on a series of apps developed to treat patients with mild to moderate anxiety, depression and insomnia.

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The apps include Calm, Headspace and Whil, which are designed to assist patients in mindfulness-based therapies, as well as cognitive behavior therapy apps such as myStrength, Silvercloud and Thrive, according to the researchers.

Since January, specially trained clinicians at Kaiser Permanente, a health insurance and medical care company that serves much of the western United States, have referred 16,348 patients to the apps, the researchers said.

Of these patients, 58% downloaded and enrolled in an app, 40% actively used an app at least once and 27% used an app more than three times, the study data showed.

The findings suggest the apps can serve as a useful tool in caring for patients with a variety of mental health disorders, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when in-person medical consultations have at times been restricted.

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"Mental health and wellness apps can make a difference in supporting everyone's well-being," study co-author Cosette Taillac told UPI.

"For patients who want simple things they can do on their own between sessions with a clinician, the apps are a useful tool to help enhance their well-being," said Taillac, vice president for mental health and wellness at Kaiser Permanente.

Although the apps can be downloaded and used without a clinician's recommendation and support, feedback from 99 users included in the New England Journal of Medicine analysis suggests that professional guidance boosts effectiveness.

Based on user comments, this may be because users are more likely to have confidence in the apps and use them correctly if they are recommended by a clinician they trust, according to the researchers.

Engagement with mindfulness-based apps was particularly high, with 69% of patients in the study reporting that they used them, the data showed.

Mindfulness is an integrative, mind-body based approach that helps people to manage their thoughts and feelings, according to Britain's Mental Health Foundation.

In comparison, 46% of patients referred to cognitive behavior therapy apps reported using them, the researchers said.

In cognitive behavioral therapy patients work with a mental health professional, usually in a one-on-one setting. to better understand their psychological problems and learn to cope with them, according to the American Psychological Association.

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"It is well documented that the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on our emotional well-being," Taillac said.

"These mental health and wellness apps are offered to patients at no cost to them to help them navigate life's challenges in-the-moment and ... [are] intended to enhance and compliment the care our patients are already receiving," she said.

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