Digital apps show promise for depression treatment

Previous research shows mental health apps are often flawed, but some say technology could help those with mild depression.

Mental health experts are beginning to see some value in mobile solutions and digital technology to treat patients with mild depression despite evidence that mental health apps are still working through significant growing pains.

Researchers have repeatedly pointed out the shortcomings within the mental health app market, including poor rating metrics and apps that lack clinical evidence. Experts at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School recently identified digital biomarkers as the new "digital divide" among mobile apps targeting mental health conditions.

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But mental health experts are finding pockets of success leveraging technology to treat depression, according to The Wall Street Journal. Some studies show internet-based cognitive behavior therapy can be just as effective as in-person treatment.

Still, Lynn Bufka, associate executive director of practice research and policy at the American Psychological Association, advocates for an approach that starts with therapist interaction and integrates technology-based interventions based on the needs of the patient.

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For clinicians, that means figuring out which apps are successful at engaging patients.  

“The future is trying to better understand how to make these apps and sites engaging,” Stephen Schueller, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University and a member of the school’s Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies, told the WSJ. “That will include clinical psychologists working with experts in augmented reality, virtual reality and gaming to develop mobile solutions that are truly novel.”