2 min readNew Apps Deliver Treatment for Depression and Anxiety Directly to User

Chicago, IL — Researchers have released a mobile ‘therapist’ designed to understand a person and suggest the ideal mini-app to lift a particular mood. The ‘therapist’ Intellicare is a new suite of 12 interactive mini-apps to combat depression and anxiety, launched by Northwestern Medicine and funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Intellicare will function like a shopping site that recommends the perfect pair of platform sandals based on your past purchases and browsing. It will suggest a simple mobile app to salve your mental distress based on your past preferences and feedback from the larger crowd of users.

The new mini apps are currently free for download on Google Play for Android phones. You can choose the right mini-apps for yourself or use the IntelliCare Hub app instead, which will make recommendations for you. The recommender system — novel for mental health apps — will be built based on information it receives from users about what is useful, and will become more accurate as the user base grows.

“This is precision medicine for treating depression and anxiety delivered directly to the user,” said David Mohr, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies. “Using digital tools for mental health is an important part of our future. It will help the millions of people who want support but can’t get to a therapist’s office.”

Each week, the algorithm will recommend new apps to keep things fresh, provide new opportunities for learning skills and avoid user boredom. Every app was designed by Northwestern clinicians and is based on validated techniques used by therapists.

“We know these approaches work,” Mohr said. “They are designed to teach many of the same skills that therapists try to teach people. Different things work for different people. The goal is to find what’s right for you.”

Mobile mental health is a growing field that’s generating excitement. But most of the apps available today are poorly designed and not based on validated psychological theory, Mohr said. People may download them but often don’t use them more than once. Thus, it’s important to create apps that can continue to offer new strategies, so people stay engaged.

More than 20 percent of Americans will have significant symptoms of depression or anxiety each year, but only around 20 percent of people with a mental health problem get adequate treatment. Mental health treatment delivered on mobile phones or the web has the potential to help the millions of people who do not get adequate care for depression and anxiety because of time constraints, cost or reluctance to talk to a therapist.

Intellicare is an American nationwide research study but any users “who are at least 19 years old, who speak English, and have access to and familiarity of using an Android smartphone” are eligible for the study, according to the official app website. Individuals can download the apps with no obligation. Northwestern researchers hope that users will provide confidential feedback, via four weekly questions, that will be used to develop the recommender system. The data will help the system make better recommendations and provide more personalized treatment.

Article adapted from a Northwestern University news release.

 Official app website Intellicare: Click here to view.

Depression, Field Trial, Health, Healthcare IT

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