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New Mini-Apps Provide Comprehensive Mental Health Advice

New Mini-Apps Provide Comprehensive Mental Health Advice

Researchers believe that you will soon be able to seek mental health advice on your smartphone as quickly as finding a good restaurant.

A new Northwestern Medicine study reports that a suite of 13 speedy mini-apps called IntelliCare resulted in participants reporting significantly less depression and anxiety. Investigators discovered participants would often using the apps on their smartphones up to four times a day.

The apps offer exercises to de-stress, reduce self-criticism and worrying, methods to help your life feel more meaningful, mantras to highlight your strengths, strategies for a good night’s sleep, and more.

The new approach is different from traditional apps designed for mental health typically. In the past, the apps would offer a single strategy to feel better, or provide too many features that would often make them difficult to navigate. This resulted in users often feeling bored or overwhelmed and resulted in quitting the apps after a few weeks.

But participants robustly used the IntelliCare interactive apps as many as four times daily — or an average of 195 times — for eight weeks of the study. They spent an average of one minute using each app, with longer times for apps with relaxation videos.

The 96 participants who completed the research study reported that they experienced about a 50 percent decrease in the severity of depressive and anxiety symptoms.

The short-term study-related reductions are comparable to results expected in clinical practice using psychotherapy or with that seen using antidepressant medication.

The study appears in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

“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.”

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.

The preliminary study did not include a control arm, so it’s possible that some people who enrolled in the trial would have improved anyway, partly because they may have been motivated to try something new, Mohr said. He now has launched a larger trial, recruiting 300 participants, with a control arm.

Some of the IntelliCare apps include:

  • Daily Feats: designed to motivate you to add worthwhile and rewarding activities into your day to increase your overall satisfaction in life.
  • Purple Chill: designed to help you unwind with audio recordings that guide you through exercises to de-stress and worry less.
  • Slumber Time: designed to ease you into a good night’s rest.
  • My Mantra: designed to help you create motivating mantras to highlight your strengths and values.

“Using digital tools for mental health is emerging as an important part of our future,” Mohr said. “These are designed to help the millions of people who want support but can’t get to a therapist’s office.”

More than 20 percent of Americans have significant symptoms of depression or anxiety each year, but only around 20 percent of people with a mental health problem get adequate treatment.

The IntelliCare 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.

IntelliCare is a national research study. Individuals can download the apps free with no financial obligation. But Northwestern researchers hope participants will provide confidential feedback, via four weekly questions, that will be used to further develop the system. The data will help the system make even better recommendations and provide more personalized treatment.

People also may enroll in a study in which they will be paid to provide even more feedback. Some also will have access to an IntelliCare coach via text messaging and phone calls, who are available to support them in using the apps.

“We now have evidence these approaches will likely work,” Mohr said. “They are designed to teach many of the same skills therapists teach patients. Different apps are expected to work for different people. The goal is to find what’s right for you.”

Source: Northwestern University/EurekAlert

New Mini-Apps Provide Comprehensive Mental Health Advice

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2017). New Mini-Apps Provide Comprehensive Mental Health Advice. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 17, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2017/01/06/new-mini-apps-provide-comprehensive-mental-health-advice/114772.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Jan 2017
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Jan 2017
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.