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Depression? There's an app for that

Ally Hirschlag is a producer/actor/writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY and buys way too many toys for her cats. She contributes to several publications, including Bustle, and The Nerve, and enjoys writing about all things woman. In her spar...

New mental health apps may help treat depression as well as in-person therapy

Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety affect a larger portion of the population than you might realize.

According to The National Institute for Mental Health, 6.7 percent of adults in the United States have suffered from at least one depressive episode in the last year. Women are 70 percent more likely to experience depression in their lifetimes than men, and postpartum depression no doubt plays a major role in that statistic.

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However, one of the scariest statistics among these is that 50 percent of Americans are not seeking treatment for their mental illness. Many people remain in denial over their depression for years, while others refuse to believe it's something for which they need medical treatment. Still more don't seek treatment because they simply can't afford the staggeringly high cost of therapy. But technology may have finally found a way around this last obstacle.

Smartphone apps called Behavior Intervention Technologies have begun to emerge as an alternative way to seek treatment for mental health issues like depression and anxiety. While it doesn't involve meeting face-to-face with an unbiased therapist, the app technology claims to offer the same benefits — understanding your difficulties and finding a way to effectively combat them.

Some mental health apps do offer the opportunity to communicate with a therapist, either via phone calls or online messaging, which according to recent research, is comparably helpful to face-to-face therapy. As such, other countries such as Australia, the Netherlands and Britain have already begun to incorporate remote therapy as an option in their healthcare systems. Yet one more way other countries are far surpassing America's healthcare plans.

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But thankfully, American engineers and scientists are on the way to making these more accessible forms of therapy more readily available to us. Northwestern University’s Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies has come up with several BIT apps already that help combat common mental health disorders like depression and anxiety in different ways.

1. Daily Feats

One majorly debilitating aspect of depression is feeling like you're not accomplishing anything, or only seeing what you're not achieving. Daily Feats helps you work through that by allowing you to structure your day into small feats that you can check off as you do them. They can be anything from getting out of bed, to making it to the gym. Similar to an exercise app that allows you to see how your exercise habits are improving over time, this app allows you to see all the mental hurdles you made it over in a day, which in turn helps you focus on the positives rather than the negatives.

2. Aspire

Sometimes we experience situational anxiety because we feel stuck in life, whether it's in our career, our personal life, or with a habit we can't seem to shake. Aspire allows you identify what fulfills you and gives you purpose, and helps you map out what little things you can do each day to get closer to that feeling. These things can be as general as finding three ways to support your family, or a way to feel physically fit, even if it's as basic as walking around the block.

3. Though Challenger

When you're depressed or anxious, sometimes it feels impossible to stop the negative thoughts from filling your head. Thought Challenger encourages you to write those thoughts down, and then consider them from a different angle so that they don't look so daunting and anxiety-producing.

There are already plenty of mental health apps on the market, but there is little data behind them to show how effective they really are. This comprehensive study at Northwestern could change all that though, because it will be able to chronicle each apps' success rate in a somewhat controlled environment (a University).

The next step will of course be finding a way to incorporate such apps into a healthcare plan. However, with the current healthcare systems in place, that will likely be a long time coming. But the more important (and might I add more positive) thing to focus on here is these apps will make mental health treatments much more available to people who might not otherwise help themselves.

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For information on depression see the Rethink Mental Illness fact sheet. If you need advice, someone to talk to or urgent support see the Rethink Mental Illness list of crisis contacts.

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