Typically, human interaction is one of the best ways to treat depression, but this is not always an option. Barriers like cost, time, therapist availability, and a fear of being stigmatized can keep people from seeking an in-person therapist. The ubiquity of smartphones means that apps and online treatment have become a potential way of providing care at a lower cost and with no requirement to physically travel to a therapist’s office. Based on a new study of over 80 trials that looked at depression and digital intervention, the treatments were more effective than simply trying to deal with depression, and in some cases were an improvement over typical treatments. The best results were with online treatments (and a few apps) that included human interaction as a form of support. The person providing the treatment was able to assign real world work, such as homework, to help provide more self-help between sessions. More still needs to be done to compare the treatment to in-person visits, so it is uncertain if digital methods are as effective or more effective. More focus was placed on online treatments over app treatments, so that will also require more attention in future studies. Currently, there is very little research to support whether apps are effective or are ineffective. There is also an increased risk that people will simply stop participating in digital research compared to those who attend therapy in person.
One of the researchers said that the real question is finding out what people want. If a treatment better meets a person’s preference, the person is more likely to stick with it. There are limitations in online and app treatments, particularly diagnosing a mental health condition. Online methods and apps can provide questionnaires, but they are not targeted or as detailed as an actual therapist when it comes to understanding a person. Mental health requires more than static questions to understand, so some human interaction (whether in person or online) is necessary for a person to have a better idea of whether or not they have a condition so that the right treatment can be applied.
For more details on the current research and where studies still need to be conducted, check out Online Programs, Phone Apps Can Help Treat Depression.