When smart phones first hit the market, no one fathomed the extent of their success. Once considered a luxury device, it has morphed into a universal device with an omnipresent status.

The new generation is entering a world already glued to its smart phone. Entire conversations without looking at another human being have become de rigueur.

It is a widely perceived notion that such an "addictive" device which triggers such "anti-social" behavior cannot be good for the psychological health.

Many an old-timer has complained how things were different in their times —how people connected and were happy and fulfilled without having the restless urge to check their phones for updates every 11 seconds.

Reports in the recent past have blamed smart phones as a cause of anti-social behavior, which has been linked to depression.

With the demand for treatment increasing on one side, several people are being prescribed antidepressants without proper diagnosis, leading to widespread abuse.

A team of researchers has turned this notion on its head, and published a study, saying that smart phones can be used as an effective tool in the treatment of depression.

Researchers from the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), Harvard Medical School, the University of Manchester, and the Black Dog Institute in Australia have linked smart phones to cures for depression.

This startling revelation could change the course of depression treatment, and add to the growing list of less chemical-based alternatives like sleep deprivation.

The study published on the World Psychiatry Association website consisted of 18 random trials and analyzed 22 apps designed to help depression.

The sample space consisted of over 3400 male and female subjects, all of whom the study said, were diagnosed with mental health disorders including major depression, mild to moderate depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and insomnia.

Subjects witnessed significant alleviation in depression symptoms by engaging with the intervention systems on their smart phones.

This points to a future of digital therapy modules where patients use phones to guide them through a depressed state of mind.

"Combined with the rapid technological advances in this area, these devices may ultimately be capable of providing instantly accessible and highly effective treatments for depression, reducing the societal and economic burden of this condition worldwide," lead author of the paper and NICM postdoctoral research fellow, Joseph Firth, said in a ScienceDaily report .

Different apps that used various principles like mindfulness meditation concepts to cognitive behavioral therapy or mood monitoring programs were found to be equally effective.

However, "self-contained apps" such as the ones that did not rely on computer feedback were found to be more effective than the ones that did. Researchers attribute this to the focus on the problem at hand rather than diverting to an in-depth analysis. 

Small data sets like these will be constructive when apps are designed with this specific use in mind. These findings will help make the programs more user-friendly and effective. The beta phases will be shorter and the apps will be more readily accepted as an effective alternative to anti-depressants, which is eventually what the researchers want.

"This research provides much needed information on the effectiveness of apps for depression, and offers important clues into the types of apps which can help patients manage their condition," according to Dr John Torous, co-author of the paper and co-director of the digital psychiatry program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and fellow at the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.