What self-help applications can bring to the therapy?Nowadays it is difficult to imagine life without the help of various applications. We use them for communication, work and entertainment. Already in 2013, two powerful technology companies, Google and Apple, announced the achievement of the first million applications available to users. The health market is not lagging behind and more innovative medical applications are being developed every day. Is there room for this innovative solution in the field of contemporary psychiatry and psychotherapy? How can self-help mobile applications for depression patients affect the therapy process? Let’s look at the current situation based on a few examples.
First of all, the term “self-help application” should be briefly explained, because its meaning is still understood differently. It is a mobile tool designed to assist its user in caring for such aspects of life as: physical and mental health, cognitive abilities, social bonds and spiritual values. The balance of all the above elements is necessary to achieve a better quality of life, but many of us lack the skills needed to maintain this balance. At this stage, self-help applications are useful, which teach us to consciously grow in various areas of life with the help of a device that has become an inseparable part of the everyday lives of millions of people – a smartphone. This concept is becoming more and more widely used in the therapy of mental disorders.
A study conducted by Canadian scientists in 2015 showed that smartphone users have over 1,000 self-help applications on the topic of depression at their disposal. An interesting fact is that the first of them was launched in 2009. The authors of the analysis divided them into several categories, depending on the main purpose of the application. They distinguished tools focused on: psychoeducation, medical evaluation, controlling and dealing with symptoms of the disease, group support or crisis line communication and psychotherapy. Some applications combined different forms of help. When it comes to detailed therapeutic options, the most common trend available in the form of self-help is cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Why have self-help applications become popular? Undoubtedly, one of the important factors is their easy availability. It takes much less effort and time to download the application from the online store than to make an appointment and visit a psychiatrist. In addition, many of these tools offer free access to resources or at least a free trial period. A Canadian study has shown that the average price of an application focused on support in depression does not exceed four dollars. This breaks the financial barrier, which for many depression patients is an insurmountable obstacle on the road to undertaking professional treatment. In addition, nowadays taking care of your mental health, mindfulness and self-help applications are promoted in a very positive way, and the use of them is not surprising. The use of self-help application aimed at helping in therapy and prevention of depression may therefore become the missing link on the way to make a decision about professional treatment in the office.
What’s more, the ability to remotely monitor your condition and symptoms also improves the psychiatrist’s insight into changes in the patient’s condition, which, along with the constantly growing demand for mental support, is very important. Using the application as the only form of help, without specialist control, is not a sufficient method of treating depression, but it can increase patients’ awareness of the disease. For example, Boston research into the use of one of the self-help applications has shown that the frequency of reporting suicidal thoughts is more common for users than for patients visiting a doctor or therapist.
The introduction of self-help applications as a supplement to depression treatment can be used by representatives of different age groups. The one who can benefit the most seems to be young people and young adults. Technology, including mobile applications, is now their everyday life. On the other hand, a large amount of time spent in front of the screen each day can translate into an increased risk of mental disorders in the above population. In this case, do medical technological solutions, including self-help applications, also have a chance to be used for good purposes? The study conducted by American specialists was designed to assess the prevalence of depression, anxiety disorders and suicidal thoughts among adolescents, as well as the frequency of their use of therapeutic telemedicine options (including self-help applications, anonymous chats with psychologists or crisis lines) in the case of onset of disease. The results showed that many young people struggling with affective disorders have great resistance to sharing their problem with others (family, teachers or friends). Interestingly, a large group of teenagers used telemedicine solutions, including self-help applications, trying to cope with depressive symptoms. The above analysis shows the great potential of a remote, innovative therapeutic solution among the adolescent age group. Perhaps this is a forward-looking solution to increase the number of teenage patients struggling with depression who decide to undergo therapy.
Self-help applications can also be an improvement in the treatment of affective disorders among people living in a foreign country without knowing the local language. A big change in life, such as moving house, can increase the risk of developing depression. Moreover, if you change your place of residence, not to mention communication difficulties, access to proper treatment is often difficult. The developers of “Aptivate!” have been trying to solve the problem. This is another innovative treatment option for depression introduced to the American market. It is addressed to the Latin American population living in the United States, whose ability to communicate in English is small, which reduces the chances of getting therapeutic help quickly.
The problem remains that the process of introducing a new application on the market is relatively easy, and the provisions on mobile medical tools have still not been specified. As a result, many health applications aimed at supporting depression patients lack reliable scientific sources and specialist controls. The choice of the right tool, based on evidence-based medicine, among the hundreds of options of varying quality should therefore be supported by doctors or therapists. Having up-to-date knowledge about modern, mobile therapeutic alternatives is therefore important for specialists to be able to answer them reliably in case of patient questions. It is also worth emphasizing that at this stage, self-help applications are only an addition to standard therapy, which remains a professional method of treating depression.