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Can an App Help With Depression?

Depression is a rapidly growing mental health disorder with a high and rising prevalence rate in adolescents and young adults in the U.S. There are a variety of ways to treat depression, including medication, therapy, and holistic methods, but is there an app that can effectively help manage and treat the symptoms of depression as well? We’ll discuss the available apps on the market that are designed to treat depression and evaluate their effectiveness.

Key takeaways:

What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that can impact a person in a variety of ways. When the chemicals in the brain that are responsible for mood — called neurotransmitters — become out of balance, this can cause a drastic shift in one’s mood, leading to depression.

There are a variety of causes for this condition such as drug use, a vitamin D deficiency, trauma, an unhealthy microbiome, a variety of medical conditions, various factors in one’s environment, and lived experiences. There are also biological factors that can contribute to depression.

How to identify depression

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, numbness, despair, and a lack of hope for the future
  • A melancholy or down mood and demeanor
  • Lack of interest in things once enjoyed
  • Eating and sleeping changes
  • A sudden decline in school or work performance
  • Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Catatonic symptoms (an inability to move or speak)
  • Thoughts and/or talk of suicide
  • Social withdrawal and self-isolation
  • Low libido
  • Negative thought patterns
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Self-harm

There are varying degrees and types of depression. There are also a variety of treatments available. If you or anyone you know is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it’s important to seek help from a licensed mental health professional.

How common is depression?

The latest statistics taken from research published between 2015 and 2020 show that depression is at an epidemic level in the U.S. These numbers are from before the pandemic, and likely to be higher now.

Prior research found that approximately 10% of those in the U.S. have depression. The rates are higher among young adults and adolescents at 17%. Depression is the primary force behind the rising suicide rates in the country, as well as attempts.

Traditional depression treatments

There are a variety of depression treatments available, depending on the cause of the symptoms and the form of depression. This is why it’s important to see both a mental health therapist and a medical doctor (MD) if you’re concerned. An MD can rule out any possible underlying medical conditions.

  • Medication and talk therapy. According to research, the most effective way to treat depression is through a combination of medication and talk therapy. Although in medically rooted cases, the treatments could look much different. For example, some forms of depression, such as seasonal affective disorder, are caused by vitamin D deficiency. In these instances, taking a vitamin D supplement or injection could be an effective treatment method.
  • Balanced diet. Other forms of depression are rooted in your diet. The body has more neurotransmitters (those chemicals in the brain responsible for mood) in the stomach (or GI – gastrointestinal system) than there are in the brain, and so when your diet isn't healthy and the microbiome is out of balance, it’s most likely going to impact the brain and mood as well. Eating a balanced diet of organic whole foods while avoiding anything that the body is allergic to or causes inflammation is a good route. Antibiotics can also sometimes cause disruptions in the microbiome.
  • Sleep hygiene. When it comes to sleep, the average adult needs anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and younger people need even more. When we sleep, the neurotransmitters in the brain are naturally rebalanced. This requires a full, solid amount of good-quality sleep. When a person has an erratic sleep schedule, it can cause the neurotransmitters to become unbalanced. One way to help is by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, plus or minus thirty minutes. This helps the chemicals in the brain with their rebalancing cycles, and you’ll most likely feel more alert and energetic throughout the day.
  • Exercise. Engaging in regular exercise is another way to combat symptoms of depression. When the body is active and engaged in physical activity, the body releases endorphins, which have a profoundly positive impact on mood, self-confidence, stress, and pain relief, while also improving sleep quality.
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Mobile apps that help fight depression

With all the ways that have been proven to treat depression, could there be a more convenient and affordable way to improve your mood? There seem to be apps for everything on the market these days, and treating depression is no exception. A variety of popular depression apps are now available to download for those who own a smartphone. The effectiveness of the apps varies each with its own unique strengths.

  • Youper. An app designed to treat depression pairing AI with clinical research to prove its effectiveness. This is a self-guided therapy approach to mental health treatment.
  • TalkLife. A mental health support network designed to treat depression through providing a substantial community for support.
  • Headspace. A meditation app that can be used to treat symptoms of depression through the practice of mindfulness.
  • Daylio Journal. A depression treatment app that helps users to track their moods and check in with themselves throughout the day. Other helpful apps for checking in and tracking progress include CBT Tools for Health Living, Self-Help Mood Diary.
  • Wysa. A treatment app that helps with depression using AI-based therapy.
  • Calm. A great app for those who are struggling with getting on a consistent sleep cycle and can help those with insomnia to sleep and allow their brain chemicals to balance out.
  • What’s Up? A wonderful tool for helping to develop healthier, positive thought patterns.

Those who like gaming may find relief from their depression symptoms by using the apps "SuperBetter" and "Happify: For Stress and Worry."

With the variety of apps designed to treat mental health on the market, it can feel overwhelming knowing which to use. The best route to take is to match the primary function of the app with the symptoms you need the most help with. It’s okay to shop around when trying to find the best app for your depression symptoms, and it’s also important to note that these should be used in moderation, as too much screen time and exposure to smartphones and screens can have a negative impact on health.

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