Depressed? Apps lift mood with personalized therapy

April 8, 2015, Northwestern University

Feeling blue or anxious? Now, there's a mobile 'therapist' designed to understand you and suggest the ideal mini-app to lift your particular mood.

The 'therapist' is Intellicare, 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.

Do you criticize yourself a lot? "Thought Challenger" can help. Ruminating about the tense meeting with your boss? Use the "Worry Knot" app. Does your life sometimes feel empty or meaningless? Try "Aspire."

Intellicare will function like a shopping site that recommends the perfect pair of platform sandals based on your past purchases and browsing. But this app 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 find the ones that are right for you. Or you can use the IntelliCare Hub app, 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."

The Intellicare algorithm will recommend new apps each week to keep things fresh, provide new opportunities for learning skills and avoid user boredom. Each one was designed by Northwestern clinicians and 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.

Mental health treatment delivered on mobile phones or the web has the potential to help the millions of Americans who do not get adequate care for depression and anxiety because of time constraints, cost or reluctance to talk to a therapist. 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 problem get adequate treatment.

Intellicare is a national research study. Individuals can download the apps with no obligation. But Northwestern researchers hope 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.

People also may enroll in a study in which they will be paid to provide more feedback. They also will have access to an Intellicare coach who will support them in using the apps. This study will assess Intellicare's effectiveness for treating depression and anxiety.

Explore further: Startup reports preinstalled apps do not consume more power than user-installed apps

More information: Learn more at intellicare.cbits.northwestern.edu/

Join the study at intellicare.cbits.northwestern.edu/join

Related Stories

Startup reports preinstalled apps do not consume more power than user-installed apps

March 23, 2015
Officials at a software startup company based on a Purdue University innovation have conducted a study that concludes preinstalled apps on smartphone devices do not use more energy than apps installed by the user, dispelling ...

New tool rates quality of health apps

February 23, 2015
With more than one million 'health & fitness' mobile applications on the market - and very little research to indicate their effectiveness - how do you know which you can trust?

Facebook's newest app unbundles Groups feature

November 18, 2014
Facebook is launching a new free mobile app for its popular Groups feature that lets users create and interact with communities on the site, whether they're based on hobbies, geography or culture.

Can your smartphone help you exercise?

January 13, 2015
Fitness applications (apps) use behavior change techniques (BCTs) to help users modify their physical activities, but which apps and which techniques are most effective? In a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, ...

New app helps monitor depression

February 27, 2015
Scientists from the University of Birmingham have developed an app that can measure the activity patterns of patients with depression and provide the necessary support.

Facebook opening online center for social "apps"

May 10, 2012
Facebook on Wednesday said it is opening an App Center for mini-programs that plug offerings such as Pinterest or Draw Something into the leading social network.

Recommended for you

Study shows how bias can influence people estimating the ages of other people

October 17, 2018
A trio of researchers from the University of New South Wales and Western Sydney University has discovered some of the factors involved when people make errors in estimating the ages of other people. In their paper published ...

Infants are more likely to learn when with a peer

October 16, 2018
Infants are more likely to learn from on-screen instruction when paired with another infant as opposed to viewing the lesson alone, according to a new study.

Researchers use brain cells in a dish to study genetic origins of schizophrenia

October 16, 2018
A study in Biological Psychiatry has established a new analytical method for investigating the complex genetic origins of mental illnesses using brain cells that are grown in a dish from human embryonic stem cells. Researchers ...

Income and wealth affect the mental health of Australians, study shows

October 16, 2018
Australians who have higher incomes and greater wealth are more likely to experience better mental health throughout their lives, new research led by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found.

Study suggests biological basis for depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances in older adults

October 15, 2018
UC San Francisco researchers, in collaboration with the unique Brazilian Biobank for Aging Studies (BBAS) at the University of São Paulo, have shown that the earliest stages of the brain degeneration associated with Alzheimer's ...

Linguistic red flags from Facebook posts can predict future depression diagnoses

October 15, 2018
In any given year, depression affects more than 6 percent of the adult population in the United States—some 16 million people—but fewer than half receive the treatment they need. What if an algorithm could scan social ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.