Mental health is a pressing concern in healthcare and is associated with substantial costs, reaching up to $1 trillion USD globally, particularly in cases of depression and anxiety. However, barriers such as stigma and reluctance to disclose mental health problems often result in delays in seeking treatment, leading to increased absenteeism rates and healthcare costs.
Digital mental health interventions (DMHIs) have emerged in recent years to address these issues, including mobile apps that offer a promising solution to improve mental health outcomes. With the shift towards digital interventions, there is a growing interest in using physiological data such as heart rate, sleep patterns, and activity levels, to enhance personalization and achieve better results.
In this article, we provide an update on the results of Project Cheria, a pilot study that explores the potential of combining DMHIs with physiological data to improve mental health outcomes.
Project Cheria enrolled 124 working adults who had been previously diagnosed with normal to mild symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). In the intervention group, participants wore the Garmin Venu SQ wearable device 24 hours a day for the duration of the 3-month study.
They were also instructed to regularly access the ThoughtFullChat coaching app and sync their Garmin and Labfront apps daily, allowing researchers to continuously collect physiological data. The data collected from the wearables included information on sleep duration, deep sleep ratio, light sleep ratio, awake minutes during sleep, stress level, daily steps, resting heart rate, and heart rate variability.
ThoughtFull wanted to enhance our clinician's ability to delve deeper into their clients' wellbeing and progress by integrating objective data into their intervention methodology. - Joan Low, ThoughtFull CEO
The findings from the study were encouraging, as they showed high levels of user engagement, with an average of 7.5 hours per week. This suggests that participants readily accepted and engaged with the intervention.
Participants also experienced significant improvements in their emotional state, measured by the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) and mood scores.
Moreover, most subjects showed strong correlations between their physiological data and PHQ-9 or mood scores, indicating that maintaining regular exercise, good sleep, and a healthy body can lead to better mental health outcomes when integrated into a DMHI program.
Implications for Health Researchers
Potential of digital interventions
The findings of Project Cheria have important implications for health researchers in the field of mental health. The high user engagement and significant clinical improvements observed in this study highlight the acceptance and potential of digital interventions combined with physiological data for managing mental health issues.
Personalized mental health care
The study also underscores the potential for personalized care through precision digital interventions. The correlation between physiological indices and mental state suggests that tailored interventions based on individual physiological data could lead to better outcomes. This opens up opportunities for health researchers to investigate the causal relationship between physiological indices and mental health, and potentially design precision intervention strategies.
Importance of therapists
Project Cheria’s findings emphasize the important role of therapists within a digital mental health setting as well. Therapists can play a crucial role in contextualizing data with an individual's personal life and providing guidance on how best to use digital tools. This calls for a more refined role for therapists in the design and implementation of digital mental health interventions, and health researchers can further explore ways to integrate therapist-led interventions with digital tools for improved patient outcomes.
I found it really helpful that my therapist was able to monitor my tracked data (eg: sleep patterns and quality of sleep) and use that to guide our sessions more relevantly. - Research Participant
Project Cheria has demonstrated the significance of incorporating physiological data, such as physical activity, sleep quality, and heart rate, in digital interventions for managing mental health issues. The study highlights the importance of personalization in mental health care and the possibility of creating tailored interventions based on individual physiological data.
Health researchers can use the insights gained from this study to design and implement digital mental health interventions that lead to better outcomes in managing mental health issues. With further research and refinement, digital interventions combined with physiological data have the potential to revolutionize healthcare and improve mental health.
Posts from the team behind Labfront, presented by Luna, the Labfront Shiba Inu.