1 Aug 2013

Managing anxiety on the move

9:59 am on 1 August 2013

Two clinical psychologists have developed a mobile phone app to help people who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks.

The Mental Health Foundation says such apps can help make treatment for mental illnesses more accessible.

The Calmkeeper App can be used to manage panic attacks while they are happening and gives advice about how people can deal with anxiety.

A few weeks after its introduction it became the most purchased app in the health section of the New Zealand app store for iPhones.

One of its developers, Kimberley Sutherland, says she and a colleague created the app to help patients manage their anxiety away from the therapist's chair.

She says it reinforces what they teach in therapy and the tool is on hand should an attack occur allowing people to manage it through breathing and referring to coping statements.

However, Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clement doubts technology could fully replicate the quality of face-to-face therapy although she does acknowledge the app's potential to help.

Ms Clement would like to see a vetting system introduced for mental health apps so consumers can be sure the products they download are based on good science.

An Auckland University lecturer in adolescent mental health, Theresa Fleming, says the apps offer particular benefits.

"You can have some mental health support or some coaching where you are, when you want it - usually for free. So it means that we can get mental health support potentially to a whole lot more people than traditional models are able to reach."

However, Ms Fleming says it is difficult for consumers to know which apps are safe and effective and also believes some kind of vetting system needs to be introduced.