Using Smartphone Apps for Depression

 In Naturopathic News

Phone So Smart It May Even be an Effective Treatment for Depression

A research team from Australia has concluded that smartphone apps may be an effective treatment option for depressed patients.1 This may help create new avenues for drugless therapy for millions of people worldwide who suffer from depression and are interested in alternative options to pharmaceutical drugs. Because depression is such a widespread mental health condition it has been important for novel treatments to be developed and research; current pharmaceutical options don’t appear to be meeting the rising challenge of this condition.

Research Analyzed 22 Smartphone Apps

The research analyzed 18 randomly controlled trials of a total of 22 distinct smartphone apps specifically developed as mental health interventions. The studies included more than 3400 participants, both male and female, between the ages of 18-59. A range of mental health symptoms and conditions were included in the studies – major depression, mild to moderate depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and insomnia. This was the first study of this magnitude on this topic.

Overall, Smartphones Significantly Altered Individual’s Depressive Symptoms

The study concluded that overall the smartphone apps significantly lowered individual’s depressive symptoms. Since, most people in developed countries use smartphones, this could be a treatment option that is ubiquitously available at extremely low cost. A treatment such as this is also instantly available. The apps help people monitor, understand, and manage their mental health.

Study Suggest Apps Treated Mild to Moderate Depression the Best

The studies do suggest the best results are found for those with mild to moderate depression. The effects in major depression were not significantly represented in the studies to definitively conclude these treatment options would be effective. However, the researchers found virtually no difference between the various apps in terms of effectivity. Some programs utilize mindfulness, while others use cognitive behavioral therapy or mood monitoring principles for their programs.

“Self-Contained” vs “Non-Self-Contained” Apps

There are “self-contained” apps and “non-self-contained” apps. The self-contained apps do NOT offer “reply” functions that allow feedback from a computer or clinician to be interfaced with the app. They are entirely personal. The non-self-contained apps allow for some of these networking and interfacing capacities. The self-contained apps were found to be significantly more effective. The researchers suggest that this may be due to the comprehensiveness of these apps in comparison.

At this time, the apps are being seen as effective conjunctive treatment. However, the effectivity of them as stand-alone treatment options is not clear.


  1. Erratum: Borderud SP, Li Y, Burkhalter JE, Sheffer CE and Ostroff JS. Electronic cigarette use among patients with cancer: Characteristics of electronic cigarette users and their smoking cessation outcomes. Cancer. doi: 10.1002/ cncr.28811. Cancer. 2015;121(5):800.
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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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