MindShift CBT app helps people cope with anxiety
September 30, 2021
During the COVID pandemic, feelings of stress and depression have overwhelmed many people. And in this era of the smartphone, for some form of relief – especially when they can’t reach a therapist – many have turned to using mental health apps.
One of the most popular apps is a made-in-Canada solution called MindShift CBT. It was developed by Anxiety Canada, a not-for-profit organization, and it’s free for everyone to download through the AppStore for Android and iOS devices.
Anxiety Canada says MindShift CBT uses scientifically proven strategies based on cognitive behavioural therapy to help users learn to relax and be mindful, develop more effective ways of thinking and use active steps to take charge of their anxiety.
“Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is the gold standard approach to highly effective treatment of anxiety and depression,” said Judith Law, CEO of Anxiety Canada. “It’s a structured therapy for anxiety, researched for decades. It helps individuals identify and change how we think and what we do.”
A new version of the app was released in 2019 before the pandemic. Law pointed out there’s been a surge in use and downloading of the MindShift CBT app since early 2020, with the highest activity happening in April of last year. “In April of 2019 there were about 41,000 active users. By April of 2020, that number more than doubled to 87,000 active users,” said Law.
MindShift CBT is available to all Canadians and to users worldwide. They can use the app alone or with a health professional – completely free of charge. “MindShift CBT teaches people how to manage their anxiety and can be especially helpful to do CBT homework when working with a therapist. Having the app available to everyone means people no longer have to suffer in silence thinking that they alone are having these symptoms and problems,” said Law.
The app has a number of unique features., including a Check-In slider that Anxiety Canada calls MS Face, which tracks an individual’s moods over time. There’s also a Thought Journal that promotes healthy thinking, coping cards, and a Chill Zone that teaches individuals how to relax their minds and bodies, such as through calm breathing. “CBT teaches people how to take action on facing their fears. They learn to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” said Law.
Anxiety Canada has been offering an innovative group-based online therapy program called MindShift CBT Groups – an eight-session group therapy program for adults 19 years and older moderated by a registered clinical counsellor.
Classes are via Zoom and participants learn about anxiety and various behavioural strategies to help them cope in a more positive manner. All topics discussed are private and confidential, and participants are required to complete a weekly assignment using the MindShift CBT app.
Feedback for the app has been very positive, especially from members of the professional community. Dr. Craig N. Sawchuk, a clinical psychologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said, “MindShift CBT is an exceptional app that dramatically improves access to evidence-based cognitive behavioural skills. We routinely and highly recommend this app to our primary care and family medicine patients to help support their engagement in and progress towards their treatment goals.”
Dr. Sawchuk praised MindShift CBT for its user-friendly design, its ability to track progress, and its ability to be customized to suit the needs of the user. He also noted the effectiveness of its evidence-based knowledge, and its promotion of skills such as exposure, behavioural activation, cognitive challenging, and mindfulness.
In 2015, Forbes named MindShift CBT as one of the top 11 fitness apps in the world. All user information is kept confidential and stored safely in the cloud. No information is ever shared with a third party, and users can delete their account anytime.
MindShift CBT and MS Groups is funded completely by donations and grants. It currently receives no government funding. New this Fall is an online chat feature called Community. “We received funding for this through the RBC Foundation,” said Law.
While the COVID pandemic has boosted the use of mental health apps such as MindShift CBT, they will probably continue to be widely used, even after the pandemic subsides.
“There were already a lot of vulnerable Canadians struggling prior to the pandemic,” said Law. “COVID has exacerbated the problem, leaving many individuals worse off. And demand for therapy is huge. Across Canada, there’s currently a waitlist of three to six months to connect with a therapist.”