Smartphone Apps for Mental Health

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

Most people today are familiar with apps for smartphones.  There are apps for many different purposes including mental health. In fact in 2015, mental health apps made up almost a third of disease specific apps in app marketplaces (1).

Some but not all apps are evidence based, researched, and known to work and some other apps are based on evidence based skills.

A 2017 meta review of studies looked at 190 individual papers researching 147 unique digital health tools and found that there may be some benefit of using apps for depression and anxiety but unclear benefit for other disorders at the time of publication. They also found research and method limitations for many studies (2).

A recent study looked at an app called “Virtual hope box” (VHB) (3).

Who was studied? (3)

  • 118 U.S. service veterans receiving mental health treatment and had a recent history of suicidal ideation.
  • They were divided into two groups.
  • One group received mental health treatment as usual supplemented with the VHB app and another group received treatment as usual supplemented with printed materials about coping with suicidality over a 12-week period.

What was measured? (3)

Using validated scales, the study authors measured coping, suicidal ideation, reasons for living, perceived stress and interpersonal needs at various points of the study.

What were the results? (3)

  • Participants using virtual hope box app showed improvements in their ability to cope with unpleasant emotions and thoughts over time.
  • Users found the app helpful for relaxation and distraction or inspiration when feeling distressed, when emotions were overwhelming, or when they felt like hurting themselves.
  • Participants found it easy to use, helpful in dealing with stress and emotional difficulties, likely to use in the future, and would recommended to others.

What are some caveats?

  • This is a small study and may not be applicable to everyone.
  • There are many apps for mental health but research in this area is limited.
  • Newer apps are being introduced frequently.
  • This is a new field of research, and as we learn more, study designs and outcome measures are being improved upon.
  • Not all the apps are free.
  • Mental health apps do not take place of professional treatment.
  • Your mental health professional may be helpful in considering the right app mental health for you.
  • There are many apps that use evidence based techniques such as apps for cognitive behavior therapy, relaxation skills, prolonged exposure, dialectical behavior therapy, mindfulness based apps, etc.
    • One such example is the OSUCCS app, which can be obtained from the app store.

How much time are you spending on your phone? How are apps in general impacting your mental health? Which app is helping you and which is not?

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

References:

  1. IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. (2015). Patient adoption of mHealth: Use, evidence and remaining barriers to mainstream acceptance. Parsippany, NJ: IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.
  2. Hollis, C., Falconer, C. J., Martin, J. L., Whittington, C., Stockton, S., Glazebrook, C. and Davies, E. B. (2017), Annual Research Review: Digital health interventions for children and young people with mental health problems – a systematic and meta-review. J Child Psychol Psychiatr, 58: 474–503. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12663
  3. Nigel E. Bush, Ph.D., Derek J. Smolenski, Ph.D., Lauren M. Denneson, Ph.D., Holly B. Williams, B.A., Elissa K. Thomas, L.P.N., C.C.R.C., Steven K. Dobscha, M.D. A Virtual Hope Box: Randomized Controlled Trial of a Smartphone App for Emotional Regulation and Coping With Distress.  Psychiatric Services 2017; 68:330–336; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201600283.

Study: Impact of Gratitude on depression, suicidal ideation, and self-esteem

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

One definition of gratitude is a state of mind where one feels and expresses thankfulness consistently over time and across situations (1).

In a previous post, we reviewed the role of specific gratitude exercise on happiness, stress, and depression (2, 3).

A recent study looked at the relationship of a person’s gratitude levels on depression, suicidal-ideation, and self-esteem among college students.

What did the study involve?
• 814 college students, with a mean age of 20.13 years (4).

• Participants completed questionnaires measuring gratitude, depression, suicidal ideation, and self esteem (4).
• The relationship between these four factors was analyzed (4).

What did the results show? (4)
• Participants with higher levels of gratefulness tended to have a higher level of self-esteem (4).
• Higher self-esteem decreased suicidal-ideation (4).
• Participants with higher levels of gratefulness tended to be less depressed, which also reduced suicidal-ideation (4).

What are some caveats?
• This was a small study looking at correlations, which does not necessarily tell us about cause and effect (causation).
• Specific factors that increased the gratitude of participants was not examined.
• Individual responses may vary.

Where can I learn more about gratitude?

Here is a link on a specific gratitude exercise: http://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2015/12/

Harvard’s link on gratitude exercise (click then scroll down the page):  http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/in-praise-of-gratitude

What are some resources to improve depression?

Counseling at the OSU Student Life Counseling and Consultation Service
Holiday stress article from the Mayo Clinic
Mindfulness and Body scan techniques at the OSU Wexner Medical Center
Depression information at the National Institute of Mental Health
Anonymous mental health screen
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Could gratitude practices help you feel better?

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

References:

  1. Emmons, R. A. & Crumpler, C. A. (2000). Gratitude as a human strength:
    Appraising the evidence. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 56–69.
  2. http://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2015/12/
  3. Oleary K, Dockray S. The Effects of Two Novel Gratitude and Mindfulness Interventions on Well-Being. THE JOURNAL OF ALTERNATIVE AND COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE. Volume 21, Number 4, 2015, pp. 243–245.
  4. Lin CC. The relationships among gratitude, self-esteem, depression, and suicidal
    ideation among undergraduate students.  Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 2015, 56, 700–707. DOI: 10.1111/sjop.12252

Study: Men and Depression Treatment

By R. Ryan S Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

About 1 in 16 individuals experienced depression in a given year(1), impacting both men and women.

A recent survey of about 95,000 college students had interesting information about men and depression (2).

What did the study involve? (2)

  • 95,761 college students across 137 colleges and Universities across the United States.
  • 91% of the students were 18 to 29 years old.
  • This is a 30 minute survey asking a variety of questions regarding health, health related lifestyle, etc.
  • This also included questions about depression, overwhelming anxiety, receiving treatment, and suicidal ideation.
  • Survey has been conducted over several years.

What did the results show?

Similar percentage of male and female college students (30.8, 38.8%) reported feeling so depressed that they could not function in the past 12 months.

Similar percentage of males and females reported seriously considering suicide in the past 12 months (8.5, 9.6%).

However, fewer male college students reported getting treatment for depression than female college students (8.7 % male vs. 15.6% female).

Why might this be the case?

There are several possibilities. Some of them include:

  • Men can experience depression differently (3) than women and men may be more likely to feel very tired and irritable, and lose interest in their work, family, or hobbies, sleep difficulties as a result of depression (4).
  • Many men do not recognize, acknowledge, or seek help for their depression (4).
  • 3/4 of suicides in the United States are men (5).
  • Men tend to under utilize health care overall than women; and this may play a role in men dying sooner than women on average (5).

What is being done about men’s mental health on campus?

Increasing awareness might help. Click here to learn more about men’s health disparities.

What is being done to increase awareness about Men and mental health?

Are there any other helpful resources?

Anonymous Mental health screening.
Suicide screening prevention.
Movember
Men’s mental health at National Institute of Mental Health

Movember National Men’s Health Campaign
Article about how depression might impact men differently.
Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.
References:

  1. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adults.shtml
  2. American College Health Association. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Executive Summary Spring 2016. Hanover, MD: American College Health Association; 2016.
  3. http://u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness/2015/11/
  4. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data_access/Vitalstatsonline.htm
  5. https://us.movember.com/programs/cause