New Collection of Apps Can Reduce Depression and Anxiety by 50%

New Collection of Apps for Depression and Anxiety Can Reduce Symptoms by 50%

Technology is often criticised for its bulging intrusion into our lives, but researchers from Northwestern University have developed a collection of 13 clinical apps for depression and anxiety. Collectively, the apps are known as IntelliCare, and research has found that they can reduce anxiety and depression by up to 50%.

Anxiety and depression can hit hard, and too often. More than 20% of people have significant symptoms of anxiety or depression, but only 20% get the treatment they need to manage their symptoms. The good news is that research is finding powerful ways for people to self-support and improve their symptoms without medication or outside intervention.

For some people, medication makes an important difference, but any management of anxiety or depression has to include lifestyle factors that have been proven to strengthen the brain and support mental strong health. Two of the most profoundly important lifestyle factors are mindfulness and exercise. They have enormous potential to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety by changing the structure and function of the brain. When done together, they can reduce the symptoms of depression by up to 40% in two months. And then, there are apps …

‘Using digital tools for mental health is emerging as an important part of our future.’ David Mohr, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

So about these apps – what makes them special?

Clinicians at Northwestern University have developed a ‘suite’ of 13 apps, each based on techniques used by therapists. Each app strengthens a particular skill, and the idea is that users choose one or two apps to focus on each week to really strengthen the skills.

The apps are called IntelliCare, and research has found that they can significantly reduce anxiety and depression to levels that would be comparable to intervention with psychotherapy or antidepressants. 

The apps are based on different theories of psychology, and have been designed to be used frequently and briefly, in line with the way most people use a mobile phone (checking emails, texting, looking for a restaurant, making a call). 

One of the main challenges facing the developers of the app was to design something that people would stay with and use consistently. Many apps that are created to boost mental health work on one single strategy to improve symptoms, or they have too many features that make the app difficult to use. We humans tend to be fans of novelty and simplicity, so apps that become boring or that are complicated to navigate around can tend to lose people after a few weeks. The designers of IntelliCare took this on board. With thirteen apps in the IntelliCare suite, people have the opportunity to rotate the particular apps they are using to keep a sense of novelty and to reduce the potential for boredom and dropout. 

“We designed these apps so they fit easily into people’s lives and could be used as simply as apps to find a restaurant or directions.” David Mohr, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologie, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Let’s talk about the research.

The study is published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. 96 people participated in the study (age 27-50). All had elevated symptoms of depression and anxiety. 82 had depression, 82 had anxiety, and 63 had both anxiety and depression.

95% of the participants downloaded five or more of the IntelliCare apps. By the end of the study, participants reported about a 50% decrease in their depression and anxiety symptoms. 

By the end of the treatment, of the people who had depression:

  • 37% met the criteria for full remission or no symptoms for depression,
  • 40% had only mild symptoms, and
  • 22% continued to need treatment.

And the ones who had anxiety, by the end of treatment:

  • 42% met the criteria for full remission or no symptoms,
  • 45% had only mild symptoms, and
  • 14% continued to need treatment.

Meet the IntelliCare apps for depression and anxiety …

The apps are available for free from the Google Play Store (find them here)Here’s a rundown on each individual app:

  • Intellicare Hub: The control tower that helps you to manage and personalise the IntelliCare apps. 
  • Aspire: Helps to identify the values that are important to you and the actions that can help you live according to those values. Helps to track those actions during the day to add purpose and increase satisfaction.
  • Boost Me: Encourages you to schedule activities that lift you when your mood drops. Keeps track of activities that make you feel good.
  • Day to Day: Tips, tricks and info to improve mood. Learn how to nurture gratitude, activate pleasure, increase connectedness – and plenty of other things that make life lovely.
  • Daily Feats: designed for motivation and to increase life satisfaction by adding rewarding activities into your day. (Also available for iPhone.)
  • Social Force: Helps to firm up your tribe.
  • My Mantra: Helps you to find the words that will lift you and motivate you. Create mantras that motivate you and highlight strengths and values.
  • Thought Challenger: Helps with the thoughts that dig in and cause trouble – the head hogs that exaggerate the negative, bring you down, and persuade you to be too tough on yourself. (Also available for iPhone.)
  • iCope: Lets you send yourself messages in your own words to help get you through the tough stuff.
  • Purple Chill: Audio recordings to help you unwind, de-stress and worry less. Teaches relaxation and mindfulness exercises.
  • MoveMe: Helps with exercises to boost your mood. Access to exercise videos and lessons to help you stay motivated exercise. Just like a coach in your pocket.
  • Slumber Time: For peaceful zzz’s – sleep diaries, bedtime checklist to make sure your mind is primed for sleep, audio recordings to get you relaxed. Oh, and an alarm clock.
  • Worry Knot: Helps you to ease up on worrying with lessons, daily tips, distractions and a worry management tool to deal with specific problems that won’t budge. Helps awith ‘tangled thinking’ and keeps you on track with progress stats. (Also available for iPhone.)

The IntelliCare algorithm suggests new apps each week to keep things fresh and avoid the experience becoming stale.

We now have evidence these approaches will likely work. They are designed to teach many of the same skills therapists teach patients. Different apps are expected to work for different people. The goal is to find what’s right for you. David Mohr

And finally.

Depression and anxiety have a way of stealing people’s personal power and putting helplessness and disempowerment in their place. The truth is that people with depression and anxiety are strong and resourceful – they have to be to live their lives and function day to day with symptoms that swipe the way depression and anxiety do. Now technology is finding ways to help people use that strength and resourcefulness and find a way through. 

UPDATE:  The developers of Intellicare have advised that three apps are now available on iOS for iPhone users. These are Thought Challenger, Worry Knot, and Daily Feats. They are hoping to continue to releasing their apps on iOS, and I will post updates as I receive them.

32 Comments

Nicholas Chelsom McCormick

To put it bluntly, finding your website and these apps I plan to use have brought me to tears!
Of joy more than anything…
Finally something that speaks to me and helps me to not feel alone, I have been seeking this type of technology for many months now and so glad to find it!
It gives me hope, which I lost in my depths of my mental health crisis I have been in for nearly two years..
Thank you and gratitude!

Reply
Elaine

What exactly CAN I download it on and what if I don’t want to give access to my contacts?

Reply
Louise

I downloaded the hub, but couldn’t open it because i wouldn’t grant access to my contacts. I don’t want the app to have access to my contacts. I’m disappointed.

Reply
Karen

Thanks Karen. I am always looking for options for my clients and appreciate your work, often referring clients to your site. As many have indicated above, the availability of the apps for iPhone will probably see downloads go through the roof! I’ll look forward to updates as I’d like to test the apps myself, although I’ll certainly be encouraging my ‘Apple’ clients to do so right along with me! And will encourage my ‘android’ clients to do so from now on.

Reply
Sara

I’m not able to find the app suite in the Apple App Store. Any suggestions? I just search “intellicare”

Reply
Mary

It says the app is available at the Google Store. What about the majority of the population that uses the Apple iPhone? Is this app also available for that platform?

Reply
Stephen

It is wonderful how technology can reach out to so many people. Having apps available when feeling blue provides immediate assistance. As you say, the people who feel blue are in fact very capable. We are all connected by the period of time we share together.

Reply
Karen - Hey Sigmund

Angela if you are looking for something for kids, I love the Smiling Minds app. It’s free and gives guided mindfulness exercises for kids to adults. There is so much research showing how powerful mindfulness can be for anxiety by changing the structure and function of the brain. There are so many other benefits too, and the research just keeps finding more. Here is the link for the Smiling Minds app https://smilingmind.com.au/smiling-mind-app/.

Reply
pam

This is very interesting Karen, I am trying to download them but so far no luck. I will keep working on it and let you know how they work for me. Thanks

Reply
Karen - Hey Sigmund

Ange not yet but the developers are in the process of testing the apps for iPhone and hope to release them one by one over the year. Will keep updates posted to the site.

Reply
Susan

When will this be available in the app store? I have apple products and can’t find them. They sound really great, so hopefully people’s access will improve soon!

Reply
Karen - Hey Sigmund

At the moment they are only available on for Android phones but the developers are currently testing the apps for iPhone and are hoping to release the apps one by one over the next year.

Reply
Cristina Riesgo

Excellent article! This kind of information makes the difference on comparisson with other things that people share on the internet. From Uruguay, South America, thank you very much for share this kind of things.

Reply
Karen - Hey Sigmund

I have asked the developers of this app about an Apple version and am waiting for a response. There is such a huge need for this and I hope their great work is able to reach more people. I will post here when I hear anything.

Reply
Karen - Hey Sigmund

Heather I have an update – the developers have advised me that that they hope to release the apps for iPhone one by one over the next year. I’ll be posting updates on the site as I receive them.

Reply

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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