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Can A Social Network Really Help Ease Depression Symptoms?

Keywords: nurse , nursing , social network , help , depression , symptoms
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There are social networks for dog lovers, for artists, and for music fanatics; now, research shows that dynamic and interactive platforms may be used to significantly reduce depression symptoms in patients with mental illness. A new study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry has indicated that web interventions have been used to effectively improve student depression, anxiety, and stress when compared to those receiving traditional cognitive behavioral therapy.

In response to this research Robert Morris developed and researched, a new social network, Panoply, a peer-to-peer platform focused on an emotion regulation strategy, cognitive reappraisal, and providing 24/7 support to its users. Users can post content, respond to other users, and receive notifications when new interactions take place. These interactions drive users to continually engage with the app.

“Panoply engaged its users and was especially helpful for depressed individuals and for those who might ordinarily underutilize reappraisal techniques,” Morris concluded. “Further investigation is needed to examine the long-term effects of such a platform and whether the benefits generalize to a more diverse population of users.”

In their experiments, Morris’ team recruited and randomly assigned 166 people to Panoply or another web-based depression intervention focusing on online expressive writing. For a minimum of 25 minutes per week for three weeks, participants posted descriptions of stressful thoughts and situations. Unlike those simply writing, Panoply users received responses to their posts within minutes. Both groups also took a questionnaire at the start and finish of the study to self-measure their depression symptoms, reappraisal, and perseverative thinking.

Participants using Panoply showed significant improvement among all three measures, while participants in the expressive writing group only improved upon depression symptoms and perseverative thinking. Instead of relying on what researchers refer to as “static, didactic content to teach therapeutic techniques,” Panoply is a dynamic, social, and interactive platform, which appears to make a difference in patients’ lives.

Recently, Morris formed a startup to turn Panoply into a consumer app. He’s taking his time because he’s been thinking carefully about how to package the app and doesn’t want it to carry the stigmatized language of depression. He is also working to ensure the feedback system will be effective at scale. The challenge is to preserve the intended effect while borrowing from the interactive language of today’s stickiest consumer apps. “We really want to make sure we’re getting things right,” he said.

“What I like about the crowdsourcing idea is that it’s sort of tackling two things in a nice way,” says James Gross, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, who has studied cognitive reappraisal. “One is that reappraisal, although powerful, can break down when you most need it. And so this is saying, ‘Hey, instead of relying on intrinsic regulation, let’s try extrinsic regulation, where we’re going to get some help from other people.’”

Hopefully the social network will allow doctors with depressed patients to offer better sources of treatment. Morris plans to roll out the network to everyone once he is confident in its efficacy.

Learn more about the study here: http://www.jmir.org/2015/3/e72/ and read more about Panoply here: http://www.medicaldaily.com/panoply-social-network-depression-patients-can-use-improve-mental-health-327632
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