PITTSBURGH – Amidst a national shortage of pediatric mental health providers and a surge in anxiety and depression among adolescents and young adults, there is a need for additional tools to help young people. A team of investigators from UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh found that a digital application may remove barriers to mental health care and is associated with reduced emotional distress when offered as part of routine pediatric care. The findings were published in Psychiatric Services.
These findings were made possible by YourMomCares (YMC), a kids’ mental health nonprofit founded by the moms of musicians, athletes and actors, which fully funded the study. The astonishing results of Phase 1 along with the devasting rising suicide statistics amongst children in this county, led YourMomCares to fully fund an expanded study of the app, including suicidal ideation.
UPMC initially studied RxWell™, a digital application developed by UPMC Health Plan to support its members with management of depression and other health and wellness challenges and published positive outcomes in adult users. This project with YourMomCares in 2019 was the first to evaluate RxWell™ as part of routine care for adolescents and young adults, ages 16 to 22. The groundbreaking app offers real-time coping techniques to users, enhanced with personal health coaching to aid improvement.
“This project shows that an app integrated into pediatric care can help adolescents and young adults with emotional distress,” said Eva Szigethy, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, pediatrics and medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, director of behavioral health within the UPMC Health Services Division and the lead for the app pilot. “Our project lays the groundwork for studies that can explore how such apps can improve access to mental health care, improve efficiency of clinical workflow, and prevent worsening of mental conditions in sustainable and reimbursable ways.”
The digital cognitive behavioral app helps young people with depression and anxiety. The app was prescribed to 506 adolescents and young adults at 35 pediatric practices, with 278 young people ultimately enrolling. Of those, 58% engaged with the app and 63% messaged their coach.
In follow-up interviews, randomly selected app users said they were most likely to use the app when they were anxious or in stressful situations, emphasizing the benefits of the app providing a “real person” to give accountability and reassurance.
The preliminary results indicated that 73% of app users saw a reduction in anxiety and 57% saw reduced depression.
With the additional $1.24 million gift from YourMomCares, an expanded study which also includes a focus on suicidal ideation has been launched testing more patients and expanding the geographic reach of the app through partnerships in Boston and San Diego.
“With the donation from YourMomCares, we are able to complete a study that is making an investment in the future of adolescents and young adults behavioral health,” said Dr. Szigethy. “This study uses the best of technology and human connection to help adolescents and young adults through their darkest moments when they are depressed or even suicidal.”
“We are honored to be able to bring this incredible, innovative tool to even more adolescents who desperately need mental wellness treatments,” said Sharon Feldstein, CEO & co-founder of YourMomCares. “The app is groundbreaking and brings in-the-moment techniques to kids in real time where they ’live’ on their smartphones.”
Additional authors on the study were Valerie Silfee, Ph.D., Maria A. Marroquin, Alexa N. Pavlick, Meredith L. Wallace, Ph.D., Kelly R. Williams, Ph.D., and Alejandro M. Hoberman, M.D., all of Pitt, UPMC or both.
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Caption:Eva M. Szigethy, MD, PhD