Three Swedish researchers recently published the world's first clinical study on the use of mobile applications for the treatment of depression. The researchers released a preview of the results to VentureBeat, and a whopping 73.5% of depression patients who used the application Viary, were considered to be depression-free by the end of the study. Major depression is expected to be the disorder with the highest disease burden (i.e. cost, mortality, impact on society) in high-income countries by the year 2030. Therefore, the researchers suggest that mobile applications can provide the market with a cost-effective solution for depression patients through behavior activation. For example, therapists could use smartphones to encourage behavior with patients between visits and less-experienced therapists could disseminate advanced techniques through the platform.
In this particular study, 81 people participated over an 8-week span. The participants hat to be, at a minimum, mildly depressed according to the Beck Depression Inventory Scale, which is a well-accepted measurement of depression among medical professionals. Most of the people in the study ended up being, at the least, moderately depressed. The participants were split into two groups, with one group using the behavior-change application Viary and the other using The Mindfulness app, which was not specifically designed to treat depression.
Viary, a Swedish application by Hoa's Toolshop, prompts users to perform behaviors that are known to counteract or relieve depression (e.g., cooking a meal, getting out of bed when the alarm clock rings). At the end of each week, participants would write about the positives and negatives of their week. The mean value on the Beck Depresion Inventory Scale was 25 when the study began and 13 when it concluded. A remarkable improvement in 8 weeks.
The Mindfulness App, created by MindApps, contains audio tracks that help the user attain stronger mindfulness. The meditation guru, Jon Kabat-Zinn, provides a laconic definition: "Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally." While The Mindfulness App was not geared specifically at depression, mindfulness training has been a well-known treatment for depression. 53.1% of the participants saw relief using the application during the study; however, the researchers concluded that the result was partially explained by short interactions of the participants with a psychology student as well as the fact they were prompted to use the app every day.
It wouldn't be suprising to see more clinical studies for mHealth applications in the coming months, as a lack of verifiable efficacy claims has cauesd apprehension and skepticism from patients and regulators. Baased on the encouraging results of the Swedish research group, it will be interesting to see how mental health professionals will begin to adopt mobile treatment tools in their practices.