A recent study shows a lack of literature for apps designed to help patients with mental health issues.
The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found that a few apps were adequately studied and demonstrated efficacy, but the real story is that there is very little literature for the majority of mental health apps.
The study began with a literature search that yielded 4997 abstracts of which only 8 met the inclusion criteria (evaluating only 5 apps).
To be included, studies were required to “examine the effects of mental health apps on mental health symptoms or disorders,” evaluate software that is directly downloadable on a mobile device, and include intervention and control groups.
The apps evaluated in the study were Mobilyze!, mobiletype, DBT Coach, Mobile Stress Management, and the Get Happy Program. According to the study’s authors, their evaluation showed “promising results.” Of the 5 apps studied, only mobiletype “failed to yield any significant direct effect on depression, although a significant indirect effect was found…through the direct effect of increased [emotional self-awareness].”
Unfortunately, the fact that only 8 studies evaluating 5 apps met the inclusion criteria shows that there is a significant lack of literature regarding the majority of mental health apps available. In their conclusion, the authors of the study note, “The public needs to be educated on how to identify the few evidence-based mental health apps available in the public domain to date.” While this is true, it is important for healthcare providers to understand the lack of evidence for many apps currently on the market and consider steering their patients to better validated products.