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New Smartphone App will Address Mental Health Problems and Monitor COVID-19 Symptoms

New Smartphone App will Address Mental Health Problems and Monitor COVID-19 Symptoms

Dr. Michael Businelle, co-director of the TSET Health Promotion Research Center and Peggy and Charles Stephenson Endowed Chair in Cancer, was recently awarded a $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to test a novel smartphone application that aims to reduce anxiety and depression and monitor COVID-19 symptoms.

Businelle shared, “Clear health disparities have emerged in rates of COVID-19 exposure, hospitalization, and death among members of minority groups and low-income adults. Furthermore, the pandemic has had a disproportionately greater negative effect on the mental health (e.g., anxiety, depression) and financial stability (e.g., job loss, housing instability) in these underserved populations.”

This study aims to address health disparities in access to mental health care via an adaptation of an initially validated, low-cost, mobile application (‘app’). The EASE app (Easing Anxiety Sensitivity for Everyone) focuses on addressing anxiety and depression and will also assess and monitor COVID-19 symptoms when/if they arise.

The EASE app checks in with users multiple times a day to assess mood, anxiety, and general mental health issues. When users indicate elevated anxiety or sadness/depression, the app selects and delivers a tailored message from its library of hundreds of messages and videos. For instance, if a user indicates that they are feeling stressed, they will receive an individually tailored suggestion on how to cope with or address the feeling. The app also contains videos that are designed to teach relaxation and coping techniques.

“The EASE app is a cutting-edge solution to the rising levels of anxiety and depression in America and we hope it will be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the future,” said Businelle.

Participants will be randomized to either receive the EASE app or an alternative smartphone app and will have access to the intervention content for six months. Participants will be compensated up to $310 over six months for completing brief surveys on personal or study-provided smartphones. Participants will be interviewed at the end of the study to identify ways the EASE app can be improved for future users. This study has the potential to significantly impact public health by addressing symptoms of anxiety and depression among populations determined to be most at risk.

To learn more information about this study, please visit https://redcap.link/EASE or call 405-271-1803.

Businelle collaborated with Dr. Michael Zvolensky at the University of Houston to develop the EASE app.

This research is primarily supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (R01MH126586), with additional support from the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Grant R22-02, and the Mobile Health Technology Shared Resource, which is a component of the Stephenson Cancer Center’s NCI Cancer Center Support Grant (P30CA225520).