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Smartphone apps can help to treat anxiety, university research shows

Research suggests the use of smartphone devices has the potential to “revolutionise current methods for gathering and using data in mental healthcare”

Smartphone apps and digital therapies can be used as a treatment to reduce anxiety, according to a study by the University of Manchester.

The research, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, reviewed evidence on the effect of using smartphone-based therapies in 1,837 people and found that using apps as a therapeutic tool, together with traditional therapies, can significantly alleviate anxiety symptoms.

Joseph Firth of the University of Manchester, who led the study, said that with most people owning a smartphone, there is great potential for using apps to treat the condition.

“It presents a new opportunity for psychological care provision in a non-stigmatising, self-managing format,” he said. “Looking at individual studies, we find that smartphone apps which aim to promote overall mental health and wellbeing, rather than focusing specifically on anxiety alone, may be most consistently effective.

“There is currently no evidence to suggest that using apps alone can outperform standard psychological therapies, or replace the use of anti-anxiety medications. This is an area for future research to explore.”

The research, which was a collaboration between the University of Manchester, Harvard University, the University of Melbourne and the Black Dog Institute in Australia, found that the use of smartphone devices has the potential to “revolutionise current methods for gathering and using data in mental healthcare”.

“Furthermore, an array of mental health ‘apps’ are already available for tracking anxiety and delivering digital interventions which can even be tailored to individual need,” it said.

“Future research should investigate pragmatic approaches for integrating smartphone support within existing health services, and to compare smartphone-delivered interventions with face-to-face therapy for anxiety.”

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Dr John Torous of Harvard University said that as both digital technologies and scientific understanding of mental health develop, “smartphones may well present a novel method for wide-scale delivery of personalised, effective and affordable treatment for anxiety and other mental disorders”.

In January this year, UK prime minister Theresa May launched a digital mental health package to develop and implement digital tools, including apps, in the NHS. The tools will become part of NHS England’s apps library, which will include at least 20 apps for mental health and diabetes.

And in 2015, Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust launched an app called Silver Linings to help psychosis patients take control of their treatment.

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