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Stressed Out! Apps for an Anxious World

The recent college admissions scandal is only the latest indication of how much pressure is on teens to “perform” – to get great grades, get into top schools, and look good on social media. All this pressure leads to stress, anxiety, and depression, and frequently to abusing drugs and alcohol.

Stressed Teens are twice as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol

In its landmark report, in 2003, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University found that highly stressed teens, compared to low-stressed teens are twice as likely to smoke, drink, get drunk and use illegal drugs. And, as recently as last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that 90% of those who are addicted, tried drugs before they were 18.

When these stressed-out teens arrived on college campuses, according to a 2017 survey by the American College Health Association, about 61% of the students had experienced “overwhelming anxiety” within the previous year, up from 51% in 2011.

“Talk therapy” replacing long waits for clinicians in countries around the world

Meanwhile, at colleges across the country, non-suicidal students can wait weeks for an appointment in the counseling center. At USC, students frequently must wait up to four weeks during busy times. According to The Economist some of the lack of availability of physicians, clinical psychologists, and social workers is being filled by Cognitive Behavioral Therapists (CBT), who use talk therapy to help the troubled take concrete steps to deal with their negative thoughts, fears and anxieties. And, in Zimbabwe, elderly women, trained in CBT, sit with their “clients” on “friendship benches” in courtyards.

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And, when there’s no one to talk with, there’s an app for that

When a “friendship bench” is unavailable, several apps are gaining traction and approval from well-vetted sources, including volunteer reviewers who are medical professional members of the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Apps they rate most highly for both effectiveness (“highly likely its content will provide the tools or methods to accomplish its purpose”) and ease of use (“very easy to use”) include these helpful tools for those mild to moderately impacted:

Breathe2Relax is a simple, free, mobile app designed by the National Center for Telehealth & Technology to teach breathing techniques to manage stress, which can help those dealing with anxiety disorders and PTSD. The app can be personalized to a pace that the user finds relaxing, and can be used by both self-starters and those working with therapists.

MoodKit, which helps individuals with depression, anxiety disorders, and anger management issues, uses some of the general concepts of CBT to learn self-monitoring, how to identify and change unhealthy thought patterns, and how to engage in mood-enhancing activities. And it’s only $4.99.

MoodTools is a free, self-help app that targets depression, with psychoeducation about risk factors and psychosocial approaches to treatment. It includes a PHQ-9 depression symptom questionnaire, a thought diary, suicide safety plan, videos, and meditation guides.

Panic Relief is targeted to help people with panic disorder to access easy-to-use supported coping tools to better manage and move through panic attacks. The free version includes access to progressive muscle relaxation skills, and an upgrade allows access to additional skills, including square and diaphragmatic breathing.

And Youper is rated 4.9 in the Google Play Store by its 31,000 reviewers among over half a million stressed, anxious, or depressed people who’ve downloaded the app. An AI avatar has “quick conversations that can change your day” according to its users. She can also “track and improve your mood,” while you “talk, track, meditate, feel your best.”

And there’s more!

ABL Member Jiang Li, CEO of VivaLnk, reports that their VitalScout is currently being used in a clinical trial at Stanford University, to measure stress levels of high schoolers. Ideally, as soon as the teens can see their heightened stress levels being reported in real time on their wearables or phones, they’ll start breathing, muscle relaxing, or engaging in talk therapy to lower their stress.

In late 2017, IQVIA reported there were already over 318,000 health apps available in the top app stores, with over 200 apps being added daily. Given the prevalence of stress, anxiety and depression – particularly among our digital natives, no doubt we’ll soon be seeing even more of them geared to this stressed generation.

Which apps do you recommend?

by Mimi Grant, President, Adaptive Business Leaders (ABL) Organization – Round Tables and Events for CEOs of Technology and Healthcare Companies