WRCAC Telemental Health Resource Center

Mobile Applications 

Mobile applications can be an important resource for mental health services, and can be used in conjunction with regular counseling sessions.  This section provides information about the use of mobile apps, as well as how to review which may be appropriate for your needs.

Mental Health Apps: What to Tell Patients (Torous, Luo & Chan, 2018) This article goes over key points to cover with patients when discussing mental health apps, and suggests that clinicians use the APA App Evaluation Model to ensure the efficacy and evidence of the mobile treatment enhancement. 

Smartphone Applications for Mental Health (Radovic et al., 2016)  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. 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.

Creating a Digital Health Smartphone App and Digital Phenotyping Platform for Mental Health and Diverse Healthcare Needs: An Interdisciplinary and Collaborative Approach (Torous et al., 2019)  As the potential of smartphone apps and sensors for healthcare and clinical research continues to expand, there is a concomitant need for open, accessible, and scalable digital tools. While many current app platforms offer useful solutions for either clinicians or patients, fewer seek to serve both and support the therapeutic relationship between them. Thus, we aimed to create a novel smartphone platform at the intersection of patient demands for trust, control, and community and clinician demands for transparent, data driven, and translational tools. The resulting LAMP platform has evolved through numerous iterations and with much feedback from patients, designers, sociologists, advocates, clinicians, researchers, app developers, and philanthropists. As an open and free tool, the LAMP platform continues to evolve as reflected in its current diverse use cases across research and clinical care in psychiatry, neurology, anesthesia, and psychology. In this paper, we explore the motivation, features, current progress, and next steps to pair the platform for use in a new digital psychiatry clinic, to advance digital interventions for youth mental health, and to bridge gaps in available mental health care for underserved patient groups. The code for the LAMP platform is freely shared with this paper to encourage others to adapt and improve on our team’s efforts.

Mental Health Smartphone Apps: Review and Evidence-Based Recommendations for Future Developments (Bakker et al., 2016)  Background: The number of mental health apps (MHapps) developed and now available to smartphone users has increased in recent years. MHapps and other technology-based solutions have the potential to play an important part in the future of mental health care; however, there is no single guide for the development of evidence-based MHapps. Many currently available MHapps lack features that would greatly improve their functionality, or include features that are not optimized. Furthermore, MHapp developers rarely conduct or publish trial-based experimental validation of their apps. Indeed, a previous systematic review revealed a complete lack of trial-based evidence for many of the hundreds of MHapps available. Objective:To guide future MHapp development, a set of clear, practical, evidence-based recommendations is presented for MHapp developers to create better, more rigorous apps. Results: Sixteen recommendations were formulated. Evidence for each recommendation is discussed, and guidance on how these recommendations might be integrated into the overall design of an MHapp is offered. Each recommendation is rated on the basis of the strength of associated evidence. It is important to design an MHapp using a behavioral plan and interactive framework that encourages the user to engage with the app; thus, it may not be possible to incorporate all 16 recommendations into a single MHapp. Conclusions: Randomized controlled trials are required to validate future MHapps and the principles upon which they are designed, and to further investigate the recommendations presented in this review. Effective MHapps are required to help prevent mental health problems and to ease the burden on health systems.

Mental Health Mobile Apps for Preadolescents and Adolescents: A Systematic Review (Grist, Porter & Stallard, 2017)  Background: There are an increasing number of mobile apps available for adolescents with mental health problems and an increasing interest in assimilating mobile health (mHealth) into mental health services. Despite the growing number of apps available, the evidence base for their efficacy is unclear. Objective: This review aimed to systematically appraise the available research evidence on the efficacy and acceptability of mobile apps for mental health in children and adolescents younger than 18 years. Results: A total of 24 publications met the inclusion criteria. These described 15 apps, two of which were available to download. Two small randomized trials and one case study failed to demonstrate a significant effect of three apps on intended mental health outcomes. Articles that analyzed the content of six apps for children and adolescents that were available to download established that none had undergone any research evaluation. Feasibility outcomes suggest acceptability of apps was good and app usage was moderate. Conclusions: Overall, there is currently insufficient research evidence to support the effectiveness of apps for children, preadolescents, and adolescents with mental health problems. Given the number and pace at which mHealth apps are being released on app stores, methodologically robust research studies evaluating their safety, efficacy, and effectiveness is promptly needed.

Telemental Health and Web-based Applications in Children and Adolescents (Siemer, Fogel & Van Voorhees, 2011)  The authors conducted a review of the literature with regard to child and adolescent mental health intervention, from which they identified 20 unique publications and 12 separate interventions. These interventions encompassed depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and mental health promotion. Studies were heterogeneous, with a wide range of study designs and comparison groups creating some challenges in interpretation. However, modest evidence was found that Internet interventions showed benefits compared with controls and preintervention symptom levels. Interventions had been developed for a range of settings, but tended to recruit middle-class participants of European ethnicity. Internet interventions showed a range of approaches toward engaging children and incorporating parents and peers into the learning process.

American Psychiatric Association App Evaluation Model This model guides users in the process of picking mental health apps by providing a hierarchical rating system with information that is important to consider before use with clients.

The App Behavior Change Scale: Creation of a Scale to Assess the Potential of Apps to Promote Behavior Change (McKay, Slykerman & Dunn, 2018)  Background: Using mobile phone apps to promote behavior change is becoming increasingly common. However, there is no clear way to rate apps against their behavior change potential. Objective: This study aimed to develop a reliable, theory-based scale that can be used to assess the behavior change potential of smartphone apps. Methods: A systematic review of all studies purporting to investigate app’s behavior change potential was conducted. All scales and measures from the identified studies were collected to create an item pool. From this item pool, 3 health promotion exerts created the App Behavior Change Scale (ABACUS). To test the scale, 70 physical activity apps were rated to provide information on reliability. Results: The systematic review returned 593 papers, the abstracts and titles of all were reviewed, with the full text of 77 papers reviewed; 50 papers met the inclusion criteria. From these 50 papers, 1333 questions were identified. Removing duplicates and unnecessary questions left 130 individual questions, which were then refined into the 21-item scale. The ABACUS demonstrates high percentage agreement among reviewers (over 80%), with 3 questions scoring a Krippendorff alpha that would indicate agreement and a further 7 came close with alphas >.5. The scale overall reported high interrater reliability (2-way mixed interclass coefficient=.92, 95% CI 0.81-0.97) and high internal consistency (Cronbach alpha=.93). Conclusions: The ABACUS is a reliable tool that can be used to determine the behavior change potential of apps. This instrument fills a gap by allowing the evaluation of a large number of apps to be standardized across a range of health categories.

Mobile Apps for Autism Spectrum Disorder-Understanding the Evidence (Kim et al., 2018) This study examined the available mobile applications for Autism Spectrum disorder to help guide clinicians, patients and families in choosing apps with the most currently available research.