A smartphone app could help you with your mental health

2014-03-20 19:58
Considering what's in cyberspace

The technology revolution clearly has a lot to offer to benefit mental health. There are of course a myriad of mental health professionals online who can offer immediate support for people in mental distress. And the wide availability of mental health information online can have a great impact for those interested in self-help with their emotional well being. There is also a consideration that socializing and working online has the potential to open up brain circuits which can promote mental health.

The journal Clinical Psychological Science has reported interest in the use of mobile technology for the delivery of mental-health services has grown in view of the economic and practical barriers to treatment. However, research which focuses on alternative mental health delivery strategies which are more affordable, accessible, and engaging is in its developmental stages.

Researchers from the Department of Psychology, Hunter College and The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, have been looking into the viability of mental health on the go with mobile apps. They have said attention-bias modification training (ABMT) has the potential to lower treatment barriers as a mobile intervention for stress and anxiety.

However, the degree to which ABMT can be embedded in a mobile gaming format and the potential which this has for transfer of benefits is not well understood at this time. In this study the researchers examined effects of a gamified ABMT mobile application in highly trait-anxious participants. A single session of the active training relative to the placebo training lowered subjective anxiety and observed stress reactivity.

According to research published in Clinical Psychological Science playing a science-based mobile gaming app for 25 minutes can lower anxiety in stressed individuals, reports The Association for Psychological Science. The study has suggested that “gamifying” is a scientifically-supported intervention which could offer measurable mental health and behavioral benefits for people suffering from relatively high levels of anxiety.

Lead researcher Tracy Dennis of Hunter College has said, “Millions of people suffering from psychological distress fail to seek or receive mental health services. A key factor here is that many evidence-based treatments are burdensome — time consuming, expensive, difficult to access, and perceived as stigmatizing.” It is the position of Dennis that due to this concerning disparity which exists between need and accessibility of services, it is vital for psychological researchers to develop alternative treatment delivery systems which are more affordable and accessible while also being engaging. This is where a consideration of the mobile app emerges.

The game in this research is based on an emerging cognitive treatment for anxiety which is called attention-bias modification training (ABMT). Basically, this treatment involves training patients to ignore a threatening stimulus, such as a hostile face, and to focus instead on a non-threatening stimulus, such as face which is neutral or happy. It has been observed that this type of training lowers anxiety and stress among people who are suffering from high anxiety.