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Depression app "Selfapy": Interview with founder Nora Blum

Especially in lockdown, which is also accompanied by gray, cold weather, many people feel mentally bad. "Selfapy" was recently certified as the first depression app and can now be prescribed accordingly. t-online spoke to the founder Nora Blum.

Contact restrictions, curfews, insecurity: the corona crisis is also a great burden for the psyche. But while more and more people need psychological help, there are fewer and fewer offers. “Selfapy” has therefore developed an app that can help with depression - with a prescription and therefore free of charge. Nora Blum and Katrin Bermbach have been developing digital health applications together since 2016. But it wasn't until December 2020 that her app achieved certification - a "milestone", as Blum reported in a t-online interview. So far, "Selfapy" is unique in Germany and the European Union: no other depression app can be prescribed by doctors and will then be covered by all health insurances.

t-online: You have developed a therapy app for depression and burnout: How does this app work?

Nora Blum: The application is structured in three modules: On the one hand, those affected receive an online training course that teaches them the strategies of behavioral therapy. This works with videos, audios and exercises. You work on it independently, similar to when you learn a language online. The user then clicks through various training modules, which is set up for three months and so he learns step by step how to help himself. The program is based on the methods of cognitive behavioral therapy.

Is the user on his own or does he receive support?

While the person concerned is completing this training plan online, he has the opportunity to keep a mood diary in which he can state how he is doing and what he has just done. We then send him automated evaluations of the relationships between feelings, thoughts and activities. In addition, he always gets a personal contact, i.e. a personal psychologist, who accompanies him through the program and monitors in the background that the symptoms do not worsen. This means that the contact person gives feedback on the content and is on hand. This is of course particularly important for our victims, because they have just one contact person who is there for them and also makes sure that everything is carried out well and that he is better off.

What is "Selfapy"?

"Selfapy" offers online courses to help people suffering from depression. Together with a psychologist, who is available as a contact person, interactive exercises should help to get rid of negative ways of thinking and to improve the mood. Since December 2020, the therapy app can be prescribed by doctors and psychotherapists and the costs can be covered by health insurance companies.

"Selfapy" is the first and only depression app in Germany that has been certified and is therefore covered by all health insurance companies: How does it differ from other apps that are not covered by the insurance companies?

To get this certification, an app has to meet a huge catalog of requirements. For example, with regard to data protection, data security, medical quality of the content and of course with a view to a proven benefit of the content offered. We carried out a study with the Berlin Charité, which shows that our online courses are effective. And "Selfapy" ultimately passed all of these requirements as the only app for depression. It is very important to us that every user is accompanied by a personal psychologist. There are also many pure apps that are offered completely without external support - but that is not our claim. We have a telephone service and each of our users is accompanied individually. I don't believe that a purely online tool is enough for mental illness.

Especially in the Corona crisis, digital offers are gaining in importance: Do you have the feeling that therapy apps are also becoming more popular as a result?

Overall, it is of course even more difficult for those affected to find a therapist because many practices have closed or have necessarily switched to telemedicine options. I think that helps with the willingness to say that an online tool may be better than nothing at first.

The app should be prescribed by the doctor with a prescription: To whom is it prescribed and which doctors can write the prescription (including general practitioners or only specialists)?

Ultimately, every doctor and every psychotherapist can prescribe the app - we see that most of the prescriptions also come from therapists or general practitioners. Of course, the patient must also have an affinity for online offers. The app is of course not prescribed for people with dementia with depression in old age. But the app can be prescribed for people with mild depression who say they need help but are currently unable to find a place in psychotherapy, for example.

Nora Blum
(Source: Selfapy)
Nora Blum is the CEO and founder of "Selfapy". She studied psychology at the University of Cambridge, completed various workstations in the clinical field and then finally switched to business. She founded "Selfapy" five years ago.

Can the app replace personal therapy or is it intended more as an accompanying measure? Where can it complement or even have advantages?

I think an app can never replace a psychotherapist - but that's never been our aim. However, the online course can really work very well for mild and moderate symptoms and be sufficient for some. Nonetheless, there is always a fundamental value in psychotherapy. But it always depends on what the patient wants. Some say they are not ready to speak to anyone yet - an online offer can be ideal. It is important to offer various forms of psychotherapeutic help.

Are there any cases that should not or cannot be dealt with via the app?

In the case of severe depression, we always refuse, because in these cases you always need a local psychotherapist. The same applies, of course, to those affected who suffer from suicidal thoughts. The app is also not prescribed if there are serious comorbidities. For example, if someone has substance addiction in addition to depression. An online program may not be enough here. The same applies to comorbidities such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. In these cases, a no-nonsense online program is not right for you. And of course there are always those affected who absolutely want a conversation with a psychotherapist, who then cannot be convinced of an online offer.

What would you say to skeptical people who reject such an app on the grounds that a program cannot replace a person?

There must be different forms of help. It would be just as wrong as saying "An app can replace psychotherapy" would be to say that a psychotherapist is always the right choice for all situations. I think there just have to be different ways of helping people for different situations and needs. And for many, online apps are also a good measure. Some simply prefer online contact.

Is the demand for psychological help generally increasing due to the corona crisis?

We have seen that since the beginning of the pandemic, more use has been made of our offers. In particular, our psychological hotline - more people are calling who want information or want to speak to a psychologist. In the first lockdown we had a three-fold increase in the number of phones.

Which diseases are particularly increasing and why?

Many people who come to us are already psychologically burdened in some way. The pandemic has made them worse again at the moment. The disorders are predominantly stress, depression and anxiety disorders. What politics is currently imposing on us is the opposite of anything we advise people in our program. We say: go out, have social contacts, have a well-organized daily structure. And all of that is being taken away from people. This is horror for the psyche. I hardly know anyone who just says: I don't care at all and don't bother me at all. It is particularly difficult for people who are already mentally unstable.

Has the pandemic made it even more difficult for those affected to get a place with a therapist?

Yes, simply for the reason that many practices are currently closed. And not every therapist uses digital means. And that's so annoying: on the one hand, the demand has increased, on the other hand, the supply has become even less. And even where the practices are open, it is of course not the same with a mask, open windows and a safe distance.

Thank you for the interview, Ms. Blum!

Important NOTE: The information in no way replaces professional advice or treatment by trained and recognized doctors. The contents of t-online cannot and must not be used to independently make diagnoses or start treatments.

more on the subject

  • Subjects:
  • Health,
  • Diseases,
  • Symptoms,
  • Coronavirus,
  • Viral infection,
  • Cambridge University,
  • App,
  • Depression,
  • Therapy,
  • Lockdown,
  • Pandemic,
  • Recipe,
  • Psychotherapy,
  • Burnout,
  • Anxiety disorder,
  • Psychology,
  • Stress,
  • Corona crisis,
  • Schizophrenia,
  • Health insurance,
  • Charité