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The question

Medication and psychotherapy have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. Might smartphone apps be a helpful option as well?

This study

The study involved 99 adults with symptoms of depression anxiety or both. About 64 percent of the participants were taking medication and 22 percent were undergoing psychotherapy.

For eight weeks, all used a group of mental-health-care apps and completed periodic health assessments.

The apps were designed for frequent brief use to help acquire skills for managing depression and anxiety in such areas as goal setting, social support, relaxation, sleep hygiene, cognitive reframing and exercise. Participants also got periodic text messages to explain and encourage use of the apps.

On average, participants used the apps three to four times a day, for about a minute each time. By the end of the study period, 37 percent of the participants had no depression symptoms, and 40 percent had only mild symptoms. Among those with anxiety, 42 percent no longer had symptoms, and 45 percent had mild symptoms. Use of medication or psychotherapy had no effect on the outcomes.

Who may be affected?

Adults with anxiety or depression, two of the most common mental-health issues. More than 16 million American adults experience at least one episode of depression each year, and anxiety disorders affect about 40 million.

Caveats

The study did not include a comparison group of people who did not use the apps. What effect, if any, coaching had on outcomes was not determined. The package of apps used in the study, called IntelliCare, is available only on Google Play and only for Android phones.

Find this study

Journal of Medical Internet Research (jmir.org).

Learn more

Information on depression and anxiety is available at nimh.nih.gov/health (search for “depression what you need to know” and “when worry gets out of control”).

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals.