Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

Feeling Blue? Maybe There’s an App for That: Exploring Telehealth for Depression

Depression can affect anyone, regardless of background or circumstance. Telehealth, using technology to connect with healthcare providers remotely, has shown promise in various areas.

Have you ever had a telehealth video session with a clinician?

My hospital, Evergreen Hospital (Kirkland, WA), was the first in the United States to identify the infection on 20 February 2020.

Courtesy of the author.

Telehealth video medicine became popular in my oncology clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A substantial minority of patients still prefer the approach.

Telehealth Benefits for Physical Conditions

Studies suggest telehealth can:

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

However, there’s a wrinkle.

While telehealth has benefits, some of my colleagues in healthcare are unsure about its effectiveness and safety for treating depression and other behavioral health issues.

My Goals

You just read about some conditions for which telemedicine provides benefits.

But what about mental health issues?

Are telehealth practices efficacious?

We’ll examine the potential advantages of telehealth for depression treatment and the concerns raised by some practitioners.

First, let’s look at the depression statistics.

Depression: The Numbers

Here’s a breakdown of depression prevalence according to recent estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:

  • Overall: Nearly four percent of the global population experiences depression.
  • Adults: Depression affects 5 percent of adults, with a slightly higher rate among women (6 percent) compared to men (4 percent). Age matters a bit, as seen in the chart above.
  • Age: The rates of depression were 21, 18, 18, and 17 percent for those ages 18 to 29, 45 to 64, and over 65, respectively.
  • Global Impact: An estimated 280 million people worldwide struggle with depression.
  • Pregnancy & Postpartum: More than 10 percent of pregnant women and new mothers experience depression.

Other Factors Influence Depression Risk

Some factors can increase the risk, such as:

  • Life Experiences: People who have faced abuse, significant losses, or ongoing stress are more likely to develop depression.
  • Gender: Women are statistically more prone to experience mild, moderate, or severe depression than men.
  • Race: Non-Hispanic Asian adults are least likely to experience depression compared with Hispanic, non-Hispanic white, and non-Hispanic black adults.

One in Five Actively Experience Depression

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly one in five adults in the United States reported experiencing some symptoms of depression within the past two weeks.

These problems ranged from mild feelings of sadness to more severe symptoms.

The good news is that depression is treatable.

Approximately 70 to 80 percent of people with major depression can significantly improve with proper treatment.

The Devastating Impact of Suicide

Sadly, depression is linked to a significant number of suicides each year.

Over 700,000 people die by suicide globally, making it the fourth leading cause of death among young adults aged 15 to 29.

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

Remember: Depression is a treatable condition. If you or someone you know is struggling, please ask for help. There are resources available to support you on the road to recovery.


The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how we access healthcare, and mental health services are no exception.

Telehealth, which uses technology like video conferencing and secure messaging, has become increasingly popular for delivering therapy sessions.

This virtual approach lets patients connect with mental health professionals remotely, offering convenient access to consultations, interventions, and secure information exchange.

Telehealth for Depression Management

Researchers analyzed a collection of studies (meta-analysis) to see if online therapy (telemedicine) could help people with mild to moderate depression.

They found strong evidence that telemedicine improved the following:

  • Depression symptoms: People felt better overall.
  • Quality of life: Daily life felt more manageable.
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

There wasn’t enough data to definitively say how telemedicine impacts work and social functioning, but at least one study showed promising results — people also experienced significant improvements in these areas.

Overall, this research suggests that online therapy can be an effective tool for managing depression and improving well-being.

Telemedicine versus Face-to-Face

Researchers compared studies on depression treatments, both in-person and online (telehealth), that involved cognitive therapy (talk therapy).

They found some interesting things about the people who participated in these studies:

  • Telehealth Patients: People who used telehealth tended to have had depression symptoms for a longer time compared to those in in-person therapy studies. However, a smaller percentage of them had received treatment before. This finding suggests that telehealth attracts people who haven’t sought help earlier.
  • Severity of Symptoms: Despite the longer duration of symptoms, the telehealth group didn’t experience worse depression compared to the in-person group. This observation was surprising, as researchers initially thought patients with more severe (untreated) depression might be more likely to choose telehealth.
  • Age: There wasn’t a significant difference in age between the groups using telehealth and in-person therapy.

These findings suggest that people who haven’t received prior treatment for depression might be more open to trying telehealth. More research is needed to understand these trends fully.

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Non-Westerners May Benefit Most

A recent study published in JAMA looked at the effectiveness of mental health apps for people with moderate to severe depression.

People from non-Western ethnicities seemed to benefit more from these apps than those from Western backgrounds.

The researchers suggest this difference might be linked to the stigma surrounding mental health in some cultures.

People from non-Western cultures might feel more comfortable using an anonymous app to access treatment.

This fascinating finding highlights the potential of mobile apps for making mental healthcare more accessible, especially for those who might face social barriers.

Good News All Around

The study also found some positive things about how well the app worked:

  • Reduced Depression: People who used the app, regardless of whether they were already getting therapy or medication, experienced a decrease in depression symptoms.
  • Boost from Combo Treatment: Those who used the app alongside therapy or medication saw the most significant improvement in their depression.

These findings suggest that mobile apps could be a valuable tool or an extra support system for traditional treatments.

Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash

Apps May Work for Both Diagnosed and Self-Reported Depression

The study also found that the app seemed to be equally helpful for people with a formal diagnosis of depression and those who self-reported symptoms.

These results suggest that mobile app interventions could be useful for a wider range of people seeking help with depression.

Important Note: While the app showed promise, it’s crucial to remember that it shouldn’t replace professional mental healthcare.

If you’re struggling with depression, please reach out to a qualified mental health professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

My Thoughts: Is Telehealth A Solution?

The rise of telehealth offers a convenient and potentially effective approach to managing depression.

Research shows that online therapy can significantly improve many individuals’ symptoms and quality of life.

Photo by Sinitta Leunen on Unsplash

While some uncertainties remain regarding its effectiveness for specific patient groups, telehealth has the potential to expand access to mental healthcare, particularly for those who may face social barriers or have had difficulty seeking help in the past.

Mobile apps also show promise as supplementary tools, offering additional support and potentially reducing stigma for those in cultures where mental health issues carry a heavy social burden.

Remember, depression is a treatable condition. If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

Whether you choose traditional in-person therapy, explore telehealth options, or utilize a mental health app, resources are available to support your recovery journey.


Medika Life has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by Medika Life

Michael Hunter, MD
Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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