Darius Rohani - New app to promote beneficial behaviour for depressed people

New app to promote beneficial behaviour for depressed people

Wednesday 21 Oct 20


Darius Adam Rohani
DTU Health Tech
+45 45 25 52 64

Researchers at DTU Health Tech have developed an app that recommends personalized activities to help patients with depression feel better through healthy activities.

Across Europe, approx. 8% of the total population will suffer from by depression within a year, in Denmark that corresponds to 300.000. And over the course of a lifetime, the risk of getting depression is almost 20%. In addition to being a debilitating disease for the individual, WHO has previously estimated that depression will be the financially most burdening disease worldwide in 2020.

When you suffer from depression, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to do things. Even the most trivial routine chores such as brushing your teeth and showering, to more demanding social interactions such as meeting friends for coffee, or going for a run to get some exercise, can prove challenging. Fortunately you can do something about it.

According to Psychologist Nanna Tuxen, Psychiatric Center, Copenhagen, Rigshospitalet, who has been collaborating with DTU on this project: “Behavioural Activation Therapy is a psychotherapeutic method, where we identify behaviour in the patients’ everyday life that either increases or reduces their depression.”

An adaptive app

Researchers at DTU Health Tech have developed a mobile phone app that supports Behavioural Activation Therapy. The idea is that the patient will plan daily activities that are beneficial. Then after completion of each activity, the user rates how s/he felt during the activity. Based on this information, the app can suggest mood enhancing activities to the user.

“Until now, we have used paper-based forms that the patients have to fill in by hand. But these are often a hassle for the patients to carry around every day. So we believe that an electronic version would be beneficial for securing a higher degree of use of the method by the patients”, says Psychologist Nanna Tuxen.

It is the “recommender” part of the app that makes it stand out from other similar apps on the market. To suggest relevant recommendations, the app has a rather simple built-in algorithm, which attaches importance to the patient’s good experiences (activities rated as pleasurable) and based on this, the app will recommend activities that reduce the depression when the patients asks for a suggestion on what to do.

Working together with the health sector and patients

The app has been developed in collaboration with medical specialists from the Psychiatric Center, Copenhagen, at Rigshospitalet.

Postdoc Darius Rohani, who has developed the app, emphasises, “Collaboration with psychiatrists and psychologists is crucial as they feed important knowledge about patients and the clinical part into the project, so we end up with a sound product that can support patients in their treatment.”

By hosting several design workshops with people, who suffer from depression, the app has been developed to secure accessibility and user-friendliness through insights into how potential users perceive and use the app.

Towards a smarter app

The collected data from the current version of the app has been analysed to guide the development of the next version of the app. A main result is that the recommender part will be a much more prominent part of the app. This way, when the user plans the next day, automatic suggestions will appear in the calendar based on previous data, and the patient can choose to include or just swipe away each suggestion.

Darius Rohani concludes: “Based on the analysis of data from the current app, we are working on a more intelligent version, where the activity recommendations are a much more integrated part of the app to encourage more activity diverse behaviour, which has proven beneficial in terms of reducing depression. In addition to the user’s previous activities, it will also evaluate the context of the activity before making a suggestion. For example, what time of day will the activity take place, and is it on a weekday or weekend? I hope and believe that we can help patients, who suffer from depression with an easy-access tool that can support their treatment and help them feel better”.

Picture caption: Postdoc Darius Rohani, DTU Health Tech (Photo by Jesper Scheel)



Behavioural Activation Therapy
The idea behind Behavioural Activation Therapy is that people’s mood and behaviour are linked. So depression can be reduced if the patient engages in activities that s/he finds pleasurable, and at the same time avoid activities or behaviour that can result in isolation or situations that can make the depression worse. This type of treatment regime is known as “outside-in” treatment, contrary to the golden standard treatment for depression namely cognitive therapy, which is an “inside-out” type of therapy, where focus is on how the patient thinks. Research shows that both types of treatment help reducing symptoms of depression. The advantage of the Behavioural Activation Therapy is that the simple message that your mood and your behaviour are linked is easier to understand for both the patients and the health workers compared to the more complex cognitive therapy, which is also more costly to society. (Source: Richards et.al. Lancet, 2016 Aug 27;388(10047):871-80)

The app called MUBS was developed and programmed by Darius Rohani in his recently finished PhD project. He is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Copenhagen Center for Health Technology (Cachet), where he continues to improve the app. Read more about MUBS here.

The Copenhagen Center for Health Technology [cachet] brings together top universities, leading research institutions, care organizations, and healthcare companies, with a clear vision to promote and support healthy living, active ageing, and chronic disease prevention and management through personalized health technology.
Cachet is hosted by DTU Health Tech and headed by Professor Jakob Bardram.
Read more about CACHET here.

More about the project
The work has previously been featured by Videnskab.dk (in Danish) https://videnskab.dk/krop-sundhed/en-app-skal-aktivere-depressive-saa-de-faar-det-bedre
You can read more about the project here

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25 JULY 2021