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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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