IntelliCare is a free, state-of-the-art suite of 13 skill-focused apps created by researchers at Northwestern University in an NIH-funded study that is poised to revolutionize how mobile apps help treat anxiety and depression. The IntelliCare apps take a multi-faceted approach to treating factors linked to anxiety and depression such as social isolation, lack of activity, sleep problems, and obsessive thinking.
The team of researchers from the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies (CBITs), Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University, who developed IntelliCare, published initial findings from their ongoing nationwide study today in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
This preliminary study evaluated the efficacy of the IntelliCare framework for the first time. And there is good news! The researchers report that of the 96 participants who completed the study, approximately 50 percent reported a decrease in the severity of depressive and anxiety symptoms.
In fact, the Northwestern researchers found that short-term reductions of anxiety and depression after using IntelliCare for 8 weeks were comparable to results expected in clinical practice using psychotherapy or the use of antidepressant medications. That said, from a clinical perspective, the researchers emphasize that in cases of a Major Depressive Episode (MDE) and other serious mental health disorders patients should always seek face-to-face professional help.
The researchers estimate that more than one in five Americans suffer from significant symptoms of depression or anxiety each year. Unfortunately, only around 20 percent of people with a mental health problem receive adequate treatment.
There are countless—potentially costly—mobile phone apps designed to improve psychological and physical well-being. What sets IntelliCare apart is that it’s the first suite of multiple smartphone apps tailored to create a unique platform that can be fine-tuned and adapted to address a host of mental health issues and lifestyle habits for each user.
To the best of my knowledge, IntelliCare is the only smartphone app of its kind being field tested across the country by clinical psychologists in conjunction with the national institutes of health. IntelliCare is currently an ongoing national research study.
Anyone can download a single IntelliCare app or the entire suite for free from Google Play and use IntelliCare to your heart’s content with absolutely zero financial obligation. Although IntelliCare is currently only available through Google Play, the researchers are working to make the platform available at the Apple iPhone app store in the near future.
In a statement to Northwestern, David Mohr, professor of preventive medicine and director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at the Feinberg School of Medicine described the IntelliCare platform saying,
"We designed these apps so they fit easily into people's lives and could be used as simply as apps to find a restaurant or directions. Some of the participants kept using them after the study because they felt that the apps helped them feel better. There were many apps to try during the study, so there was a sense of novelty.
Using digital tools for mental health is emerging as an important part of our future. These are designed to help the millions of people who want support but can't get to a therapist's office.
We now have evidence these approaches will likely work. They are designed to teach many of the same skills therapists teach patients. Different apps are expected to work for different people. The goal is to find what's right for you."
The IntelliCare apps are designed to be intuitive and require very few instructions. Each of the thirteen apps contains a bullet point of quick “tips” on the home screen that help guide the user through his or her first interaction with each new tool. If you’d like to hear a Podcast interview with David Mohr please click here.
As you can see, the suite of thirteen different IntelliCare apps described above offers a multi-faceted approach for the treatment of anxiety and depression. It also offers fresh techniques to help make your life feel more meaningful ... mantras to reframe your explanatory style, strategies for moving your body more, sleeping better and much, much more.
The IntelliCare algorithm automatically recommends new apps each week to keep the user’s experience engaging by providing ever-changing opportunities to learn new skills. This prevents boredom. Although these apps are not technically validated, each of the thirteen IntelliCare apps was designed by Northwestern clinicians and based on validated techniques used by professional therapists.
Typically, smartphone apps designed for well-being only offer a single (often underwhelming) strategy to help someone feel better; or the app provides too many features which make it overwhelming. All too often, users get bored or overwhelmed and stop using self-help apps after a few weeks. But the opposite was true with IntelliCare. The more frequently a study participant engaged with one of the IntelliCare apps, the longer he or she continued regular use.
On average, IntelliCare users interacted with one of the thirteen apps for about a minute up to four times daily—or an average of 195 times throughout the eight weeks of the study.
Throughout this study, participants also received coaching over the phone and via text. Coaching included an initial phone call plus two or more text messages per week over the eight weeks.
Notably, this preliminary study did not include a control arm. Therefore, the researchers acknowledge that it's possible some people who were motivated to enroll in the trial were already predisposed to be more likely to benefit from the IntelliCare platform.
That being said, for the next phase of this ongoing research project, Mohr et al. are planning a much larger trial that will include a control arm. Stay tuned for results from their next study in the near future. In the meantime, why not download one of the IntelliCare apps or the entire suite?
Mohr DC, Noth Tomasino K, Lattie EG, Palac HL, Kwasny MJ, Weingardt K, Karr CJ, Kaiser SM, Rossom RC, Bardsley LR, Caccamo L, Stiles-Shields C, Schueller SM. IntelliCare: An Eclectic, Skills-Based App Suite for the Treatment of Depression and Anxiety. J Med Internet Res 2017;19(1):e10. DOI: 10.2196/jmir.6645