New Smartphone mini-apps can help relieve depression, anxiety

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A suite of 13 speedy mini-apps called IntelliCare can reduce depression and anxiety, report researchers from Northwestern University in the United States.

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.

“We designed these apps so they fit easily into people’s lives and could be used as simply as the apps used to find a restaurant or directions,” said lead study author David Mohr from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Participants in the study received eight weeks of coaching for the use of IntelliCare. This included an initial phone call, plus two or more text messages per week over the observation period. They spent an average of one minute using each app, with longer times for apps with relaxation videos.

The participants reported a 50% decrease in the severity of depression and anxiety symptoms, by using the apps on their smartphones upto four times a day. These reductions are comparable to results expected in clinical practice using psychotherapy or with that seen using antidepressant medication.

“Some of the participants kept using them after the study because they felt that the apps helped them feel better,” Mohr added.

The study was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

The apps were designed by Northwestern clinicians based on validated techniques used by therapists. 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.

The IntelliCare algorithm recommends new apps each week to keep the experience fresh, provide new opportunities for learning skills and avoid user boredom.

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