Described as first-of-its-kind research by the team, the new analysis was led by researchers from Australia’s National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) along with Harvard Medical School, The University of Manchester, and the Black Dog Institute in Australia, who together looked at how effective smartphone-based treatments could be in reducing a range of mental health symptoms and conditions including major depression, mild to moderate depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and insomnia.
Eighteen randomized controlled trials were reviewed as part of the study, which examined a total of 22 different smartphone-delivered mental health interventions and included more than 3400 male and female participants age 18-59, all suffering from one of more of the mental health conditions.
The team found that overall, using a smartphone app significantly reduced people’s depressive symptoms, appearing to be most effective for those with mild to moderate depression.
The results also showed that although there was no difference in the effectiveness of apps which used mindfulness techniques compared to those that used cognitive behavioral therapy or mood monitoring programs, apps which provided “in-app feedback” such as summary statistics and progress scores had a greater effect than those that did not have in-app feedback.
Although there is currently no evidence to suggest that using apps alone is more effective than standard psychological therapies, or that they reduce the need for antidepressant medications, the early results are promising. Lead author of the paper Joseph Firth also commented that an app could not only be an effective method of managing the condition but also an accessible and affordable option for many patients, including those who may not have access to treatment.
Jennifer Nicholas, a PhD Candidate at Black Dog Institute and co-author of the paper also commented that future research is now needed, adding that, “Given the multitude of apps available — many of them unregulated — it’s critical that we now unlock which specific app attributes reap the greatest benefits, to help ensure that all apps available to people with depression are effective.”
The findings can be found published online in the journal World Psychiatry.