New research has emerged that a digital mental health program may help patients decrease anxiety and depression.
The study, published yesterday morning in JMIR, gave patients with moderate to severe depression the Vida Health app, which used cognitive behavioral therapy and one-on-one therapist counseling. Scientists saw the rates of anxiety and depression decrease during the program and stay steady for months after.
“The results suggest that digital interventions can support sustained and clinically meaningful improvements in depression and anxiety,” authors of the study wrote. “Furthermore, it appears that strong initial digital mental health intervention engagement may facilitate this effect. However, the study was limited by postintervention participant attrition as well as the retrospective observational study design.”
The study found that at the end of the 12-week app intervention patients’ depression scores went down an average of 3.76 points on the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-8) scale. Reported depression was seen as reduced at program-month six and nine, according to the study.
Researchers also saw a 3.17-point drop in anxiety rates on the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale (GAD-7) at the end of 12-weeks. This rate was maintained at program-month six and nine.
However, it is important to note that there was a steep drop-off rate in participation from the 12-week mark to the nine-month follow-up.
The study began with a total of 323 participants. In order to be included patients had to have a PHQ-8 score and GAD-7 score over five.
Of the total cohort, only 146, were included in the analysis because in order to be included subjects were required to submit one follow-up assessment after baseline. Researchers did not find a significant difference in baseline scores between the program “nonstarters” and the treatment cohort.
Participation rates dropped over time. Researchers instructed participants to complete the PHQ-8 and GAD-7 at the three-month mark, the six-month mark and the nine-month mark. By the nine-month mark only 21 participants completed the assessment.
Digital mental health tools are plentiful. However, historically, research on the services has been somewhat lacking. In March of 2019 a study published in Nature Digital Medicine found that a majority of the apps studied do not provide evidence or peer-reviewed studies to back up their products. In fact, only two out of the 73 apps studied provided evidence from a study using the app.
The medical community has called for more studies and clarity in the past.
“One of the critical elements is there [aren't] enough clinicians, medical or scientific, to be involved in a lot of the apps out there that call themselves mental health apps,” Dr. David Silbersweig, chairman at the department of psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Health and professor at Harvard Medical School, said during World Medical Innovation Forum last year. “And there is a slippery slope from mental health to wellness, and calmness and relaxation and stress reduction etc. … We need to decide as a field so it is evidence-based and pathology-based, and also realize there is need for prevention and stress reduction.”