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Most anti-depression apps don’t work: Study

New Delhi :There is no proof that 85 per cent of the depression apps currently approved in the UK for patients to manage their condition actually work, researchers say.

Approval from the National Health Service (NHS) may falsely reassure patients, many of whom are increasingly opting to fund their own treatment in the face of overstretched mental health services and the associated lengthy waits, researchers said.

Until such time as evidence is forthcoming on the clinical effectiveness of these apps, and they have been properly evaluated, such apps should be removed from the NHS library, said Simon Leigh from the Management School at the University of Liverpool, and Steve Flatt, from Liverpool Psychological Therapies Unit Community Interest Company.

One in 10 patients with mental health issues in UK is now waiting more than a year before getting any form of treatment, and one in two waits more than three months, researchers said.

One in six of those waiting for treatment is expected to attempt suicide, while four in 10 is expected to self-harm. And their condition is likely to worsen in two thirds of those waiting to see a mental health professional.

Interactive online and app based treatments for mental health are becoming increasingly popular and accessible as a result of the growth in routine use of smartphones and tablets, researchers said.

These options need to be “well informed, scientifically credible, peer reviewed and evidence based” and, importantly, their performance needs to be measured against a validated set of performance criteria, they said.

But in 2013, there were only 32 published articles on apps for depression, one of the most common mental health conditions, despite the availability of more than 1500 for download, they said.

The same is true of apps for a range of other mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, bulimia, and post-traumatic stress disorder, which suggests that they don’t meet these standards.

“Unfortunately, the situation seems to be much the same with respect to apps accredited by the NHS,” researchers wrote in the journal Evidence Based Mental Health.

Of the 27 mental health apps currently listed in the NHS library, 14 are for depression and anxiety. Yet only four provide any scientific proof that they work when used by patients, and only two of them have been properly evaluated for clinical effectiveness.

“As such, confidence in, and the validity of, the claims made by apps that fail to apply such metrics must be considered as low at best, suggesting that the true clinical value of over 85 per cent of NHS accredited mental health apps is at present impossible to determine,” researchers said.