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New app seeks to improve mental health at the clinical frontline

The app functions as an evidence-based platform to focus on faster mental health support.

A man expressing sadness with his head in his hands. Image by Tellmeimok. (CC BY-SA 4.0)
A man expressing sadness with his head in his hands. Image by Tellmeimok. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

A new interactive a smartphone app, for promoting mental health wellness, has been launched. The app is called Columbia Psychiatry Pathways and it is designed to help practitioners identify and treat depression. The app is designed for use on the typical smartphone device.

The app was developed by Columbia University researchers in partnership with the technology company avoMD, which is a digital health startup. The app has been designed to aid clinicians to provide critical mental health care services in an outpatient setting, where most people with depression are seen.

With clinicians, this includes primary care providers, who are frequently on the frontlines of managing patients’ depression. The importance of this professional group is borne out by studies that show the screening rates in primary care are low and that practitioners miss depression more than 50 percent of the time.

Within primary care it can be difficult for practitioners to assess what to do after depression has been diagnosed. This is not helped by clinical guidelines constantly evolving. The app aims to address this deploying next-generation decision support technology in order to put the latest scientific knowledge in the hands of clinicians.

The app functions as an evidence-based platform and it uses an algorithm that focuses on faster medication adjustments with emphasis on the seven best-tolerated generic antidepressants.  The app can measure symptom severity using built-in calculators based on the Columbia Depression Scale and includes screenings for bipolar disorder and suicide risk. The Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) is a semi-structured clinical interview that assesses suicidal ideation severity, suicidal ideation intensity, and suicidal behaviour.

In a systematic review of suicide prevention strategies, Columbia researchers found that training primary care physicians in depression recognition and medication treatment prevents suicide, often halving the risk.

One of the developers, Professor J. John Mann outlines why the app was developed: “Depression is fast becoming the leading cause of disability worldwide, and the frontline of treating professionals for major depression are primary care professionals and internists.”

With this group in mind, Mann adds: “This app is designed to help clinicians treat depression more effectively. It also helps them monitor the patient response and when a referral may be indicated.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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