woman frustrated with smartphone

Effectiveness of ‘digital self-help’ app under scrutiny

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Researchers are looking to recruit young people to use their MyMoodCoach app in order to assess the effectiveness of digital self-help apps.

The app is designed to prevent anxiety and depression and improve wellbeing and brings together the latest research on self-monitoring, self-help techniques and cognitive behavioural therapy.

The team from the University of Exeter is specifically seeking those aged 16 to 22 years old and they hope the app’s data will help them learn more about mood, emotion and mental health in young people.

Understanding what influences young people’s emotions and wellbeing is particularly relevant because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on young people.

A recent study by NHS Digital found that in July this year 27 per cent of young women and 13 per cent of young men, aged 17 to 22, had a probable mental health disorder.

The project is running until May 2021 and thousands of young people from eight countries will be offered free access to the app.

The MyMoodCoach app will ask users to log their mood and emotions each day, giving them an overview of their own emotional patterns. 

The app will also randomly offer two thirds of users features and strategies to help directly with emotional well-being. For example, if the young person reports that they tend to worry a lot, the app could provide him or her with self-help exercises and strategies to reduce worry.

This random allocation will allow researchers to test which elements in the app work best to support young people.

Professor Ed Watkins, of the University of Exeter, said: “This is the first large-scale trial of its kind. We are aiming to use mobile technology to equip young people to understand and manage their own emotions, to improve their wellbeing and reduce the risk of mental health issues.

“Crucially, the advice and available tools will be tailored to what is most useful to them. Finding scalable ways to help young people is critical right now because we already know that Covid-19 and its disruption on daily life is having a huge impact on the well-being of young people – with recent studies finding the largest increase in self-reported distress in this age group.

“We are therefore keen to see if a digital self-help approach can help young people stay mentally well in these difficult times.”

In the UK, a quarter of 17-19 year-olds (1.25 million) experience significant levels of depression and anxiety – yet less than one third of these receive any professional support or treatment.

Last month, another team demonstrated how VR can be used to have a significant impact on remote health appointments for patients with body image problems.

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