An Australian Rotary Health (ARH) funded research study has found that app-based treatments for depression with mood monitoring features, may be a positive alternative to seeking treatment face-to-face.
From 2015-2018, Dr Matthew Fuller-Tyszkiewicz at Deakin University was awarded an ARH Mental Health Research Grant to evaluate the efficacy of a depression symptom monitoring smartphone app called BlueWatch.
Dr Fuller-Tyszkiewicz and his team were interested in whether providing guidance in the form of messages about when to use the intervention content resulted in better outcomes for participants than self-guided use of the same app.
“Overall, findings suggested that both forms of the app, guided and self-directed, reduced depressive symptoms, and that there was a slightly greater reduction in depression for those who received messages about when to use the app,” Dr Fuller-Tyszkiewicz said.
“Both groups also reported feeling less anxious, again with slightly greater improvement for the guided app users.”
One feature that participants were particularly happy with was the app’s mood self-monitoring function.
“Including a mood monitoring component where participants can report their mood and receive a chart providing summary of their mood over time was a highly used and positively received feature of our app.”
“We were able to use the mood data participants reported to work out when their depressed mood scores were high, and when such instances were identified, participants were notified that now might be a good time to use the intervention content.”
Surprisingly, there were no differences in the amount of time each group spent using the app, nor did they differ in the amount of content they completed.
Participants also tended to prefer the BlueWatch app activities that could be consumed quickly and that were targeted at immediate improvement in mood such as breathing and relaxation tasks.
“This is interesting because it suggests that app developers should ensure that at least some of the content provided in their app-based intervention can address symptoms at the time participants need them,” Dr Fuller-Tyszkiewicz said.
In future work, Dr Fuller-Tyszkiewicz intends to find ways to leverage the mood monitoring component of the app to enhance matching of the participant symptoms to the most effective treatment options in the moment.
“Our findings of participant satisfaction and improvement in mental health from use of BlueWatch suggest that app-based treatment for depression may be a viable option for individuals who are unable or unwilling to seek face-to-face treatment from mental health professionals.”
This study was an Australian-first in evaluating whether a prompting system based on mood data capture can help provide depression treatment materials at time of greatest need.
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