Smartphone Applications for Mental Health

Published in: Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, v. 19, no. 7, July 2016, p. 465-470

Posted on RAND.org on August 24, 2016

by Ana Radovic, Pamela Vona, Antonella M. Santostefano, Samantha Ciaravino, Elizabeth Miller, Bradley D. Stein

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Many adolescents and adults do not seek treatment for mental health symptoms. Smartphone applications (apps) may assist individuals with mental health concerns in alleviating symptoms or increasing understanding. This study seeks to characterize apps readily available to smartphone users seeking mental health information and/or support. Ten key terms were searched in the Apple iTunes and Google Play stores: mental health, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar, trauma, trauma in schools, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), child trauma, and bullying. A content analysis of the first 20 application descriptions retrieved per category was conducted. Out of 300 nonduplicate applications, 208 (70%) were relevant to search topic, mental health or stress. The most common purported purpose for the apps was symptom relief (41%; n = 85) and general mental health education (18%; n = 37). The most frequently mentioned approaches to improving mental health were those that may benefit only milder symptoms such as relaxation (21%; n = 43). Most app descriptions did not include information to substantiate stated effectiveness of the application (59%; n = 123) and had no mention of privacy or security (89%; n = 185). Due to uncertainty of the helpfulness of readily available mental health applications, clinicians working with mental health patients should inquire about and provide guidance on application use, and patients should have access to ways to assess the potential utility of these applications. Strategic policy and research developments are likely needed to equip patients with applications for mental health, which are patient centered and evidence based.

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