Johns Hopkins launches app, website with information about mental health issues, mADAP teen depression app offer quick, easy resources

Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Karen Swartz travels the country leading training sessions as part of the Adolescent Depression Awareness Program, which she leads.

But for as many parents and counselors who show up in person for the sessions, she knows there are just as many she's not able to reach. Her experiences have shown her the value of going digital.

"We wanted to come up with ways to have information available where it's on their own time, whether that's in the evening or when they're waiting in line somewhere," Swartz says.

The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins has developed two new digital platforms to educate the public about mental health issues: a mobile app focused on teen depression and a website with video Q&As about mood disorders.

The app mADAP launched last fall to provide information and videos on identifying, diagnosing, and treating adolescent depression. It's an area that needs as much attention as possible, experts say, with about 2.8 million teens who suffered at least one major depressive episode in 2014.

Users can look through symptoms, learn how to distinguish between depression and normal sadness, and find information and specific resources for professional help. The app also features videos of Johns Hopkins experts explaining different aspects of depression.

Swartz has found herself recommending mADAP to not only counselors and parents but also teenagers themselves.

"Teens are even more likely than their parents to use that type of resource," she says.

School of Medicine psychiatrist Anne Ruble and Vinay Parekh, director of the Psychiatry Emergency Service for Johns Hopkins Hospital, began developing mADAP in 2011, and the app is now available for both iOS and Android devices.

The app is a companion project to Ask Hopkins Psychiatry, a website launched last winter that allows users to anonymously submit questions about any topic concerning mood disorders and receive video responses from Hopkins experts.

Recent questions include: "If my spouse isn't taking their medication, what can I do to help?" and "What role does alcohol play in my mood disorder?"

For the latter inquiry, for example, Swartz herself explains on camera how alcohol works as a crutch for those dealing with mood disorders—providing temporary relief from negative feelings, but ultimately exacerbating the issue.

"It makes sense that if you want to have your brain free of depression, you would not want to treat it with a depressant," she says in the video.

A team of psychiatrists at Johns Hopkins—led by Raymond DePaulo and Kay Redfield Jamison, directors of the Mood Disorders Center—reviews the submitted questions each week to select one for a filmed response.

The goal is to provide professional advice that's bite-sized.

"We're not giving an hourlong lecture on mood disorders," Swartz says, explaining that the short videos are meant to be "appealing and very focused."