While digital therapeutics, in many forms, have become increasingly mainstream over the past few years, digital treatment designed specifically for teens who are experiencing symptoms of depression and other mental disorders is novel. That’s exactly what SparkRx is going for with its niche targeting of an adjunct treatment aimed at teens and young adults aged 13 to 22. Available through healthcare providers, SparkRx connects with these young patients in the way most of them are most comfortable: through their smartphones.

Launched by the digital therapeutic company Limbix, SparkRx employs cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with a program that allows patients to manage the pace of their treatment and progress over a five- to seven-week period. Guided by a robot named Limbot, adolescents learn about the connections between behavior and mood, with assistance in identifying activities that can offer improvement with each. Progress is gauged by rewards-based interactive exercises. The app also has a unique safety feature; language that indicates the potential for self-harm prompts emergency guidance and direction toward resources to help manage mental-health crises.

The app meets a pressing need, which has recently been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally one in seven people ages ten to 19 has mental-health issues, including anxiety and depression. According to the WHO, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among teens ages 15 to 19. The numbers are even higher in the United States; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that 37% of high school students reported mental-health issues in 2021, with 44% saying they felt “sad or hopeless.” These feelings are not unfounded: 55% of youths surveyed reported emotional abuse by an adult; 11% reported physical abuse by an adult; and 29% reported that a parent or another adult they live with lost a job.

Limbix’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Benjamin Alouf says SparkRx is designed to meet this rising need. “Today’s youth are experiencing unprecedented mental health challenges,” says Alouf. “There is a shortage of timely treatment options to get them the help they need, when they need it the most…SparkRx provides an immediate, safe, self-guided, and private treatment option.” According to SparkRx, one in five patients reported that they no longer had depressive symptoms after treatment, and that overall mental health improved significantly for patients who participated in the SparkRx prorgam.