Smartphone apps can help reduce depression

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Image: Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

A study led by academics from Australia's National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), Harvard Medical School, The University of Manchester and the Black Dog Institute has delved into the effectiveness of smartphone-based treatments for depression.

Conducting a review of 18 randomised controlled trials which examined a total of 22 different apps, the study involved more than 3,400 men and women between the ages of 18-59 with a range of mental health symptoms and conditions including major depression, mild to moderate depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and insomnia.

Accordingly, it was discovered that apps significantly reduced people's depressive symptoms, with NICM postdoctoral research fellow Joseph Firth explaining the findings may be useful in filtering the apps that may be able to provide accessible and affordable care for patients who might not otherwise have access to treatment.

"The majority of people in developed countries own smartphones, including younger people who are increasingly affected by depression," he said. "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 researchers found no difference in apps which apply principles of mindfulness compared to cognitive behavioural therapy or mood monitoring programmes.

However, interventions that used entirely "self-contained" apps - meaning the app did not reply on other aspects such as clinician and computer feedback - were found to be significantly more effective than "non-self-contained" apps.

Despite the early results, the researchers warn there is currently no evidence to suggest that using apps alone can outperform standard psychological therapies, or reduce the need for antidepressant medications.

The full study has been published in journal World Psychiatry.

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