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
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.
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!
Your so welcome Nicholas. I’m so pleased the information found its way to you when you needed it.
What exactly CAN I download it on and what if I don’t want to give access to my contacts?
The apps are available can be downloaded on to android devices at the moment but testing is happening on the versions for iphones. The researchers can be contacted through this page if you have any other questions https://intellicare.cbits.northwestern.edu/.
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.
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.
Thanks so much Karen! Yes I’m so pleased they’re coming out for iPhones too. So great to see technology working like this.
I’m not able to find the app suite in the Apple App Store. Any suggestions? I just search “intellicare”
At this stage it looks as though they are only available in the Google Play Store. Hopefully they will realise the huge need for an Apple version as well.
This sounds very promising. Do you know if they’re available for iPhone?
As far as I know at this stage they are only available on Google Play. I hope they release a version for iPhone – such a big need!
Can’t be downloaded on an iPhone. Not really very helpful for 80% of people is it?
Hi, are there plans to make this available through the App Store?
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?
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.
Yes – I love when technology makes such a difference like this.
Is there something like this for kids??
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/.
Great info. Thanks.
Will these be available for iphones/Apple?
Thank you – downloaded all of them and looking forward to using them
I’m so pleased that you’re giving them a go. I hope they are helpful for you.
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
Pam yes! I would love to know how they work for you.
Hi there, are the apps available for iPhones?
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.
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!
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.
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.
When will this be available for Apple devices??
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.
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.