A New Smartphone App Helps Fight Depression

A recently launched smartphone app, developed by a team of researchers from the University of Liverpool and University of Manchester, helps combat depression. It does so by using key principles of psychology and mental health, and by focusing on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is a therapeutic technique that can change the way people think and act. The researchers conducted a trial before releasing the app in order to test its effectiveness. The app is called “Catch It”, and is available for both Android and iOS devices free of cost.

The app helps users better understand their moods by maintaining an ongoing diary. The app takes users through a process called “Catch it, Check it, and Change it”, which helps users better identify and manage different moods they experience. The process highlights various thoughts and thinking styles associated with shifting moods and emotions. The app is not a replacement for professional psychotherapy, mental health care, psychological advice or medication but rather an aid to fighting depression. Researcher Peter Kinderman recognizes the limitations of the app but also acknowledges its benefits in mental health care management.

The app is built on the concept that our emotions, thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are intertwined and that negative thoughts can set out a chain of adverse actions, which can ultimately trap us in a vicious circle. Kinderman added, “Our research examined the uptake and usage rates of this application along with the faithfulness of user responses to CBT principles and their impact on reported negative and positive moods.”

The results of the initial trial of app usage, published in the British Journal of Psych Open, revealed significant improvements in positive mental behavior in the trial patients and greatly reduced negative moods. Of the 285 patients that downloaded the app and agreed to share the test results, many used it more than once. Moreover, the information they updated in the diary was consistent with the basic principles of CBT, pointing out that the app was working as the researchers had intended. Hence, the researchers were quite hopeful of the impact of the app and believed that more controlled trials should be conducted to further explore the app’s influence.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

This app focuses heavily on using the technique of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to deal with depression and there is an important  reason behind this.

CBT is one of the most common techniques to treat depression and anxiety, and can be used to treat other mental and physical health problems as well. It is a form of verbal psychotherapy that can help manage problems by changing the way people think and act. CBT breaks down the cycle of negative thinking by breaking down overwhelming thoughts and feelings into smaller, manageable problems and suggesting the course of action to overcome those problems in a positive way. The best part about CBT is that rather than focusing on the past, it focuses on the present problems and gives practical solutions to deal with these everyday problems.

CBT can help with many diseases such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anorexia, obesity, phobias, panic disorders and chronic diseases such as Chronic Fatigue Disorder. CBT cannot deal with the physical symptoms of these diseases, but can rather help patients cope better with their symptoms. It is recommended that CBT sessions be held once every week with a qualified therapist and each session should be about 40 to 50 minutes long. The course of treatment usually lasts between 5 to 20 sessions.

In each session, a patient should discuss in detail his or her issues and areas that need improvement. After that, the therapist will be able to provide ways to make changes in the patient’s lifestyle. In the next session, the therapist will discuss if the changes are being implemented and whether they are working or not. If not, then the patient would be provided with an alternate solution.

CBT is proven to be as effective as some medical drugs in fighting mental health diseases. Moreover, compared to other verbal therapies, it can be completed relatively in a short period of time. However, to fully benefit from this mode of therapy, it is highly recommended that patients discuss their problems in detail with their therapist and make sure they do not miss any detail.

What Was The Need To Develop Such An App?

Mental health problems have become quite common. We live in an extremely fast paced world, where job stress can be one of the many leading causes of mental health deterioration. According to World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 350 million people currently experience mental health issues. In 2014, one in five American adults experienced some kind of mental issue. One in 25 Americans lived with a major mental disorder such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

The biggest risk associated with mental health issues is that they remains undetected, mostly due to the fact that friends and family members think of them as a phase and do not regard them as life-threating diseases. Most of the time, when serious mental health diseases go undetected, they can lead to suicidal thoughts in patients. Suicide, being the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, makes mental disease an issue that cannot be taken lightly.

It’s not just adults who are at threat. According to WHO, 20% of the world’s adolescents face mental health problems. WHO also states that mental disorder is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Many patients who cannot afford proper psychic treatments or are too afraid to openly share their problems are encouraged to use mental health apps. There are many apps in the market that claim to help solve mental health problems. However, most of these are not properly researched and an uninformed user can become perplexed by excessive information, which can further complicate the problem. In the case of ‘Catch it’, the researchers properly tested this app before releasing it to the general population.

Since so many app developers are focusing their skills on developing health apps for more prominent diseases, such as diabetes and cancer, the team thought it necessary to shed some light on mental diseases and came up with a solution to combat this growing problem.

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