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Will apps that help patients battle anxiety disorders be effective?

mental_health-imageAccording to a recent article on The New York Times, scientists are currently working on developing apps that could help those battling serious anxiety disorders and mental health problems. But can a simple smartphone app really help to change our behaviour and confront serious disorders?

We’ve all seen plenty of health and fitness apps recently; to track weight loss; understand the way our muscles work; and keep an eye on our caffeine and alcohol intake, but it seems the next new wave of apps will specialise in helping those who are struggling with mental illness, which will be a very sensitive subject and is bound to cause some controversy. But if it’s executed well, we imagine these kinds of apps could be really beneficial to those struggling with all kinds of problems, especially those who for one reason or another aren’t admitting that they need help now and again.

According to The New York Times, these new apps are likely to use cognitive bias modification (often referred to as CBM) – this is a way of breaking some of the brain’s worst habits. So in basic terms, instead of fixating on a crowd and getting nervous and anxious because a few people are scowling, CBM would encourage people to focus on the fact even more people are smiling.

As you can imagine, there are plenty of ways to use CBM in simple programmes and potentially in apps. As the article explains, a basic app will flash two faces up on the screen and force users to focus on the one that’s smiling, not the one that looks more hostile.

Stefanie Block, a University of Michigan graduate student who took part in a Harvard study about simple CBM programmes like this, said:

“It’s a little boring, because it’s repetitive, but you’re only doing it for a few minutes a few times a day […] I just did it when commuting to work on the subway; it’s crowded, there isn’t much you can do, it was the perfect time.”

There aren’t any of these kinds of apps readily available on the app store at the moment, but it seems a number of scientists are working on a way to deal with the sensitive subject of mental health in a way that can bring solutions to people no matter who or where they are in the palms of their hand.

[Via The New York Times Image via SEAP]

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