Can These Mental Health Apps Help Your Anxiety?

Images courtesy Northwestern University.

Washingtonians have plenty to be anxious about. To start, Donald Trump’s inauguration is just 14 days away, members of the federal workforce could be looking at $1 salaries, and Metro is still under SafeTrack. But could using your phone help relieve some of your anxiety?

A suite of apps under the umbrella of IntelliCare are manufactured to help do just that. The collection of 13 Android apps, which were produced by The Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University, include apps such as Boost Me, which provides prompts such as “Go for a walk outside,” or “Call a friend” when the user is feeling down, or the Purple Chill app, which pairs audio recordings with de-stressing exercises.

So how effective are they? Currently, NIH is sponsoring a study of the apps at Northwestern University, and on Thursday, the school released the findings of a preliminary trial in a study published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research. It found that the participants, who used the apps on average 195 times throughout the eight-week trial, experienced a great decrease in anxiety and depression. However, these findings are preliminary and based on 90 participants who completed the eight-week trial. Also, the study was conducted as a single-arm trial, so it could be that the participants improved on their own without any help from the apps. Additionally, the participants were coached on using the apps and compensated for participating in the trail, which also could have interfered with the study’s results.

Marla Paul, Northwestern’s health sciences editor, says the university is planning to continue testing the apps with a second study with a larger set of 300 participants and the addition of a control arm to improve the study. Want to try them out for yourself? The free apps are currently available on the Google Play Store.

Associate Editor

Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.