Smartphone apps reduce depressive symptoms

Smartphone applications may be an effective treatment tool for millions of patients suffering from depression, according to a study published in World Psychiatry. The study examined the safety and effectiveness of mobile apps in patients with various forms of depression.

In this study, researchers from Australia's National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), Harvard Medical School, The University of Manchester and the Black Dog Institute examined how mobile treatment apps could affect depression.

"The majority of people in developed countries own smartphones, including younger people who are increasingly affected by depression," said lead author and NICM postdoctoral research fellow Joseph Firth. "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 reviewed 18 trials covering 22 mobile mental health apps. A total 3,400 participants with a range of mental health symptoms such as major depression, mild to moderate depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and insomnia were enrolled.

Results showed smartphone apps were able to significantly reduce user’s depressive symptoms. Patients with mild to moderate depression experienced the most reduction in symptoms. Additionally, apps that did not include an aspect of clinician or computer feedback were significantly more effective than others.

"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," said co-author, NICM deputy director, Professor Jerome Sarris.