Treating depression in adolescents with their smartphones

Learn how we’re meeting teens where they are to deliver effective care for one of the most common mental health conditions.

There’s an app for nearly everything these days — even depression.

The average teen spends well over seven hours per day in front of screens. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that, in parallel, the prevalence of mental health conditions like depression among youth is rising at an alarming rate. Most of the time, smartphone use isn’t recommended for improving mental health.

But that isn’t always the case — sometimes, phone use can actually improve mental health.  Given the barriers to other forms of treatment and the fact that screens are here to stay, we’re meeting teens where they already are with effective treatments to address the youth mental health crisis in a format they’ll actually stick with.

Reimagining how we treat depression in teens

While 5 million adolescents in the US are experiencing depression, up to 80% of children, youth, and young adults do not receive adequate treatment for their mental health conditions. For those who do seek care, the many barriers that exist within the mental health care system can interfere with them receiving timely treatment. 

For example, the average wait time to see a specialized provider in person can be nearly two months. But there aren’t many specialized providers to begin with. Only 4% of clinical psychologists in the US specialize in adolescent mental health, and these overloaded providers are trying to juggle exhausting patient loads. When you add in factors like access to transportation or working around parents’ busy schedules, the window for treatment can become even more narrow. Plus, other factors like stigma and preference can contribute to low treatment rates in adolescents — many may be hesitant or fearful to speak with someone they don’t know about their feelings.

When it comes to mental health, every moment matters. It’s clear there needs to be a more accessible solution that meets the unique needs of adolescents. That’s where digital therapeutics come in.

Digital therapeutics rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) like SparkRx can fill the gap that exists in adolescent mental health care by bringing effective depression treatment directly to them via their smartphones. 

How CBT improves symptoms of depression

Experts recommend CBT as one of the first treatment methods for common mental health conditions like depression. Thanks to its robust evidence base, CBT is widely known as a safe and effective treatment for depression among psychologists. While CBT may not be sufficient as a standalone treatment for some with severe depression, it can greatly benefit as an adjunct to care and help those with moderate and symptomatic cases (i.e., those who don’t have a clinical diagnosis). So, regardless of where someone falls on the spectrum, CBT can significantly improve their health outcomes.

By addressing the root cause(s) of depression, CBT helps patients implement lasting behavior change and develop new, healthier ways of thinking and behaving.

For example, one well-studied CBT principle is behavioral activation, which helps patients learn that activity, especially activity aligned with their values, can help improve their mood. A teen may understand that they value sports, so with CBT, they would be encouraged to join a local sports team or club. In doing so, they’d notice an improvement in mood. Small, achievable tasks like this are tracked and reinforced until the process becomes automatic for the patient.

SparkRx: the first clinical-grade digital treatment for adolescent depression

SparkRx harnesses the power of CBT techniques in a fully digital environment for lasting results and adherence. In a clinical trial, SparkRx was shown to deliver a meaningful reduction in depressive symptoms in adolescents. Among trial participants, 31.7% experienced a treatment response, 40.5% demonstrated clinically meaningful improvement, and a quarter of participants reached full remission.1 By offering treatment that is not only clinically effective but also convenient and engaging for youth, we see untapped potential to improve adolescent mental health.

Our mission to bring millions back to good mental health includes adolescents. Big Health is committed to delivering quality treatments for depression to one of our most vulnerable populations through SparkRx. 

See SparkRx firsthand — request a demo today.

1. Unpublished RCT data, September 2023.

In accordance with FDA’s Current Enforcement Discretion Policy for Digital Health Devices for Psychiatric Disorders, for patients who are followed by and diagnosed with depression by a medical provider, SparkRx can be made available as an adjunct to their usual medical care for depression. SparkRx does not replace the care of a medical provider or a patient’s medication. SparkRx has not been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for these indications.

DOC-3224 Effective 09/2023

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