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Trial Testing Mobile Apps for Mood Management

IntelliCare screen

IntelliCare screen. Click on image for full-size view. (Google Play)

9 April 2015. A lab at Northwestern University medical school developed a collection of mobile apps for helping people cope with feelings of depression and anxiety, and is testing the apps as personalized interventions in a clinical trial. The study is led by David Mohr, director of Northwestern’s Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies, who is recruiting 200 individuals to test the apps in their day-to-day lives.

The mobile suite, known as IntelliCare, has 12 individual apps, each designed to address a specific type of worry, such as repeated negative thoughts, isolation, or lack of motivation. Users can download the apps individually, or the entire collection, for free from Google Play; only Android versions are currently available. Each app, says the developers, is based on validated techniques used in therapy.

IntelliCare is designed to gather data from individuals based on their use of the apps, which when added together from all users, will form a knowledge base for recommending specific interventions customized for each person. An algorithm also recommends new apps and opportunities to learn new skills based on user behavior. Mohr, in a university statement, calls the technique “precision medicine for treating depression and anxiety delivered directly to the user,” adding “It will help the millions of people who want support, but can’t get to a therapist’s office.”

People who download the IntelliCare apps are asked to take part in a field test of their utility as interventions for depression and anxiety, among people experiencing clinical symptoms of those disorders. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a large number of people in the U.S. experience those symptoms. Some 8 million people a year visit doctors’ offices or outpatient clinics for major depressive disorder, and nearly 400,000 people are hospitalized for the disorder with an average stay in the hospital of 6.5 days.

The clinical trial aims to enroll 200 individuals with depression and anxiety to get early indicators of IntelliCare’s feasibility and effectiveness of IntelliCare in improving those symptoms. The trial asks participants to use the apps daily for 8 weeks, including a brief weekly motivational session with a coach. Assessments will be made at the beginning of the  8 weeks, with feedback and assessments gathered at weeks 4 and 8.

The trial’s main indicator of feasibility is the ability of users to stick with the regimen over the 8 week period. The study is also measuring self-reported severity of depression and anxiety symptoms, as well as satisfaction with the apps.

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