There’s Now an FDA-approved App to Treat Depression

The FDA has approved the first app for treating major depressive disorder, a condition estimated to impact 21% of U.S. adults at some point in their lifetime. The app, Rejoyn, is intended to supplement treatment for major depressive disorder: In a clinical trial of 386 adults with major depressive disorder (who were also being treated with antidepressant medication), participants who used the app saw improved depression symptoms after 6 weeks of treatment. Using digital tools to improve mental health is not new, of course. There are tons of apps available for meditation, journaling, and even connecting to a therapist—and there have been apps approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat ADHD, substance use disorder, and insomnia. Rejoyn is expected to be available by prescription for iOS and Android devices in summer 2024, but there’s no information yet on how much the app will cost or whether insurance companies will cover it. Here’s what we know so far about how Rejoyn works and whether you should look into it when it’s available.What to expect from RejoynRejoyn uses a six-week program of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) lessons, exercises, and personalized reminders and messages. During the program, you will complete three lessons and three exercises each week. For four weeks following the program, you can still access the lessons for review. Lessons (a short video followed by an off-app or interactive activity) take 3-4 minutes and exercises take 11-26 minutes each.According to Otsuka, the company that made Rejoyn, lessons focus on cognitive restructuring (observing and re-framing maladaptive cognitions such as cognitive distortions), behavioral activation (deliberately increasing goal-directed behavior, physical activity, and interpersonal interaction), and emotional regulation (an individual’s ability to modulate or control the influence an emotion has on them, or to modulate the degree to which an emotion is experienced).Who is Rejoyn a good match for?Rejoyn is intended for people who are 22 or older and are diagnosed with depression. It will be most suited to people who are tech savvy and want to use digital resources to accompany talk therapy and medication for depression.“It’s essential to note that while Rejoyn represents a significant milestone as the first prescription digital treatment for major depressive disorder, its efficacy and suitability for individuals may vary,” said Dr. Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind. “As with any treatment, consulting with a therapist is crucial to determine whether Rejoyn is an appropriate option and to develop a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to the individual’s needs.”How can you access Rejoyn?Rejoyn requires a prescription, so you will have to talk to your primary care doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist about your depression symptoms and treatment.“During this consultation, the healthcare provider will conduct an evaluation to assess the individual’s symptoms, medical history, and current treatments. Based on this evaluation, the provider will discuss various treatment options, including Rejoyn, alongside traditional therapies like medication and psychotherapy,” Hafeez said. “If Rejoyn is deemed suitable for the individual, the healthcare provider will issue a prescription for the app.”“While it may provide tools and resources for managing symptoms, it may not address the underlying causes of depression in the same way that therapy and medication can,” Hafeez said. However, it could be a source of support between therapy sessions.Other apps that could help with depressionHafeez said there are non-prescription apps that show promise in improving symptoms of depression. She shared these examples:Headspace offers guided mindfulness and meditation exercises aimed at reducing stress and promoting emotional well-being. “Research has suggested that mindfulness-based interventions can be effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety,” Hafeez said.Woebot is a chatbot-based app that delivers CBT techniques through conversational interactions. “Research has found that Woebot can be effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, particularly among younger users,” Hafeez said.Happify offers activities and games designed to promote happiness and well-being by targeting negative thoughts and behaviors. “While research on Happify specifically is limited, interventions focused on positive psychology principles have shown promise in improving mood and psychological well-being,” Hafeez said.While the number of digital tools available for tending your mental health are growing, don’t ditch therapy and meds yet.“It’s important to note that while these apps have shown effectiveness in research studies, they are not intended to replace professional treatment for depression,” Hafeez said. “Individuals experiencing depression should consult with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment options for their needs. Additionally, ongoing research is needed to further evaluate the efficacy and long-term effects of digital interventions for depression.”

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