‘Instantly my negative thoughts disappear’

Poor mental health among US teens and young adults was a problem before the pandemic, but over the past few years, rates have been rising: nearly half of high school students, the 44% said they felt persistently sad or hopeless during the pandemic. last year, and more than a third, 37%, said they had mental health problems during the pandemic, according to an analysis of 2021 data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention..

Additionally, there is currently a national shortage of pediatric physicians. mental health providersand many of the children who can access care still have difficulty sticking to their treatment plans, Dr. Eva Szigethy, director of behavioral health at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told NBC News’ senior national correspondent. , Kate Snow, in a segment aired on TODAY on October 10, World Mental Health Day.

That is why the results of a new study from UPMCwhich found that an app can significantly reduce anxiety and depression shows such promise for the youth mental health crisis.

The study, published in Psychiatric Services and funded by the children’s mental health nonprofit YourMomCares, looked at the effects of a mental health app called RxOkay, also developed by UPMC, in people ages 16 to 22 who were prescribed the app for routine care. The app provides users with real-time coping techniques, such as relaxation, meditation, and coping with stress, and the option to talk to a mental health coach.

“Essentially, (the coaches) help them set goals. They give them feedback. They help them recognize when their symptoms are getting worse,” Dr. Sonika Bhatnagar, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told Snow. . “The youth reported that when they interacted with the behavioral health coach, they found it to be a better clinical experience.”

Of the 506 people prescribed the app at 35 pediatric practices, 278 signed up for it; of these, 58% used the app and 63% messaged their coach.

The findings indicated that users of the app experienced a “significant” reduction in anxiety and depression at one month and three months, the study authors wrote. Notably, 73% of app users reported a reduction in anxiety and 57% noted a reduction in depression.

“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,” Szigethy said in Press release. Users were more likely to use the app when they were feeling anxious or stressed, “emphasizing the benefits of the app by providing a ‘real person’ to provide accountability and reassurance,” the press release noted.

The app is available free of charge to UPMC health plan members ages 16 and older.

One young adult who has benefited from the app is 22-year-old Caileigh Nutter, who was part of RxWell’s first test group. Nutter’s parents, now sober, struggled with substance use during her childhood, and was raised by her grandparents from the age of 8. Her mother was in a state penitentiary when she was a teenager.

“I felt alone. I felt like no one understood me. I felt like no one understood my past or even where I was coming from at the time,” Nutter told Snow. “I was given a lot of roles, like being that mother figure, plus my grandmother being that mother figure, to my sister.”

Her doctor prescribed the app when she felt anxiety while in nursing school and her grandfather became ill. Nutter said he was “hesitant” to use it at first because he didn’t know how private his communications would be and was worried it would carry some of the negativity of social media.

“I had a really hard time getting involved at first. But once I realized that, okay, this is totally private, I definitely settled down,” Nutter recalled. “I was able to connect with my coach at any time, and it’s like an instant message, which was really helpful.”

Being able to communicate with his trainer more regularly than traditional therapy, which typically takes place once or twice a week for an hour or less, was an important part of Nutter’s experience.

“The things that I was going through, the feelings that I was feeling, the thoughts that I was having, helped me to be able to create an overall positive mindset to know that I can instantly make my negative thoughts go away, to know that I can have a coach there when I I need her, to know that she can help me create a plan and follow that plan,” she said.

Nutter got married last year and landed her dream job as a nurse at a neonatal intensive care unit after graduating in the spring. She is still confident in the skills he learned from RxWell.

“I bring those techniques back into my life now, realizing that things aren’t going to happen overnight. It’s the day-to-day process, and being able to continue using those techniques that the app brought me is just amazing to know that I can do it anywhere and anytime,” he said.

An extended study has been launched that will test the impact of the application on suicidal thoughts and bring it to more patients in different parts of the country, including Boston and San Diego.

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