In Pierce County, depression is an ever-present challenge. Recent data suggest that 17 percent of adults and 38 percent of children here felt sad for more than two weeks in the past month, compared with 10 percent of Washington adults and 29 percent of children in the U.S.
One-third of clinically depressed adults receive treatment to manage their condition, and only half of those are likely to continue taking medication after diagnosis.
The statistics are clear: While a diagnosis of depression is tough, managing it consistently appears to be tougher. Some reasons patients give for not keeping up with treatment include lack of education necessary to identify the possible source of their mental illness, insufficient monitoring of depression triggers, and not enough patient follow-up to encourage staying on top of treatment, such as taking anti-depressants on schedule.
A recent report commissioned by the Pierce County Council found “high levels of unmet need,” yet county officials have been unable to agree on how to meet this need.
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What if in 2017 the barriers to self-managing depression for Pierce County residents could be removed by using mobile devices?
Mobile health promotion, or mHealth, deploys smartphones, wearable devices and apps to manage illness and promote wellness. Mobile technology gives individuals to more control of their health care decisions, which means they are more likely to engage in self-care management.
The possibilities for advancing public health appear endless. The ability to capture information in real time might enable individuals to manage triggers and potentially avoid large-scale crises. Real-time capture of data linked to triggers could relay potentially life-saving information to providers. Reminder apps might keep individuals on top of medication-taking schedules. Immediate access to health information could inform and empower people.
Technology appears to be the next frontier for improving supports for Pierce County residents in managing depression; the question is, how do we move forward?
Nationally, we need more funding to research effective mHealth tools. Locally, healthcare systems and public health need to invest in programs that educate providers about adopting mHealth to improve care of patients.
Depression continues to be a pressing challenge for people in Pierce County. It is time to invest local and national resources to expand the capabilities of mHealth. It is time to invest in a mobile-technology alternative to promote patient self-management.
Sharon Laing and Robin Evans-Agnew are assistant professors of nursing and health care leadership at the University of Washington Tacoma. Laing has conducted research using mobile technology to promote health and wellness in low-resource communities.