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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For way too long, there’s been an idea that discipline has to make kids feel bad if it’s going to steer them away from bad choices. But my gosh we’ve been so wrong. 

The idea is a hangover from behaviourism, which built its ideas on studies done with animals. When they made animals scared of something, the animal stopped being drawn to that thing. It’s where the idea of punishment comes from - if we punish kids, they’ll feel scared or bad, and they’ll stop doing that thing. Sounds reasonable - except children aren’t animals. 

The big difference is that children have a frontal cortex (thinking brain) which animals and other mammals don’t have. 

All mammals have a feeling brain so they, like us, feel sad, scared, happy - but unlike us, they don’t feel shame. The reason animals stop doing things that make them feel bad is because on a primitive, instinctive level, that thing becomes associated with pain - so they stay away. There’s no deliberate decision making there. It’s raw instinct. 

With a thinking brain though, comes incredibly sophisticated capacities for complex emotions (shame), thinking about the past (learning, regret, guilt), the future (planning, anxiety), and developing theories about why things happen. When children are shamed, their theories can too easily build around ‘I get into trouble because I’m bad.’ 

Children don’t need to feel bad to do better. They do better when they know better, and when they feel calm and safe enough in their bodies to access their thinking brain. 

For this, they need our influence, but we won’t have that if they are in deep shame. Shame drives an internal collapse - a withdrawal from themselves, the world and us. For sure it might look like compliance, which is why the heady seduction with its powers - but we lose influence. We can’t teach them ways to do better when they are thinking the thing that has to change is who they are. They can change what they do - they can’t change who they are. 

Teaching (‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘How can you put this right?’) and modelling rather than punishing or shaming, is the best way to grow beautiful little humans into beautiful big ones.

#parenting
Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting

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