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Study: Mood-Reporting App Could Help Understand Patients With Moderate-To-Severe Depression

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Major depressive disorder impacts approximately 14.8 million adults in the U.S. each year. To better understand depression, researchers recently looked at how mood-tracking could potentially help doctors assess the condition.

The results, which were presented last week at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting, found that the solution could actually be as simple as an app.

Over the course of eight weeks, researchers looked at 25 patients with major depressive disorder, with or without comorbid anxiety disorder. They asked them to track their daily moods using a Smartphone and Online Usage-Based Evaluation for Depression app. The app, which was downloaded onto their mobile devices, could capture sensor data like text messaging time and phone calls. Actual depression and anxiety symptoms were measured bi-weekly using tools commonly utilized by clinicians to diagnose certain mental health conditions — the Patient Health Questionaire-9 (PHQ-9), the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D) and the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A). 

Nidal Moukaddam, who presented the results at the APA Annual Meeting, said that 82 percent of the study participants performed "fairly well," inputting their daily moods into the app as instructed. According to app feedback, some were even "enjoying" it. 

In regard to patients who had moderate-to-severe depression, there was a high correlation between self-reported mood and clinically-administered questionnaires. The study indicates that an app that requires mood-reporting may complement data that stems from the questionnaires issued by practitioners.

It's also worth noting that there was not as much correlation in patients with milder depression. For this reason, the study suggestions that smartphone data may be more practical in better understanding patients with moderate-to-severe depression. The researchers behind the piece claim that their findings are still preliminary — more work needs to be replicated in larger studies for more information. They intend to expand upon their original work by examining adolescent and perinatal populations in the future.

Up to 80 percent of individuals who receive treatment for depression show an improvement in their symptoms within four to six weeks of beginning medication, psychotherapy or a combination of these treatments. However, nearly two out of three people living with depression do not actively seek or receive proper treatment.

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