Feeling blue? Get 'appy with this tool

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If you search for wellbeing or mindfulness in the App Store, you’ll be overwhelmed with a list of programs designed to boost your mood and stay focused in a world where countless things are competing for your immediate attention. However using apps to manage anxiety, depression or low mood can be risky. Not all apps have been through rigorous psychological testing and deemed medically reliable.

That’s why a research team at Deakin University’s School of Psychology found it important to explore the requirements for an app-based mental health tool that could be as helpful as an on-call psychologist. Using their cognitive behaviour expertise, Dr Linda Hartley-Clark, Dr Matthew Fuller-Tyszkiewicz and Dr Ben Richardson designed, wrote and built BlueWatch. They are now working with a number of other researchers, including the team at the Black Dog Institute and are seeking 600 volunteers aged 18 to 25 to evaluate the 12-week program ahead of a late 2016 release.

According to Dr Hartley-Clark, associate research fellow at Deakin University’s School of Psychology, a depressed mood can affect one in five people and the peak early onset is between the ages of 18 and 25, but early detection and treatment may speed up the recovery process. She says the advantage of using digital tools to manage mental health is that they ‘provide anonymity to those suffering,’ and adds that using the right apps can be just as effective as a face-to-face conversation with a professional.

According to Dr Hartley-Clark the prevalence of depressive symptoms in young people can arise when they struggle with life’s challenges. However, an individual can often experience many pressures at once, so the trigger can be unclear. Personality factors such low self-esteem and optimism levels are also thought to contribute to the development of depressed mood.

That’s why the BlueWatch app is comprised of 12 modules that go beyond mindfulness. The team has used cognitive behavioural therapy tools to help the user challenge and identify negative thoughts, maintain wellbeing, live life according to their own values, and build strategies for coping with stressful situations.

Participants are required to check in on the app a few times each day and document their mood. ‘BlueWatch will alert the participant when their mood has dropped to a level and prompt them to access troubleshooting activities or revisit mindfulness content,’ Dr Hartley-Clark explains. ‘At the end of the 12 weeks we reassess their depressive symptoms to see if there has been a reduction.’ She hopes that people who use the app walk away with the understanding that ‘they have the tools inside themselves to create a buffer for life’s challenges. They can train the mind to be mentally match fit and stay match fit.’

To find out more about BlueWatch or participate in the trial visit bluewatchapp.com.

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Dr Linda Hartley-Clark
Dr Linda Hartley-Clark

Associate Research Fellow, School of Psychology, Deakin University
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