Mental health apps lack scientific evidence of efficacy

Though mobile mental health applications have the potential to be effective and may significantly improve treatment accessibility, the majority of apps that are currently available lack scientific evidence demonstrating their efficacy, finds a study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

"The public needs to be educated on how to identify the few evidence-based mental health apps available in the public domain to date," argue the article's authors. "Further rigorous research is required to develop and test evidence-based programs."

According to the article, there are currently more than 3,000 mental health apps for Android, Apple and Microsoft that are available for free download. The objective of the study was to systematically review the research evidence supporting the efficacy of mental mHealth apps. The study examined eight papers describing five apps (Mobilyze!, mobiletype, DBT Coach, Mobile Stress Management and Get Happy Program) targeting depression, anxiety and substance abuse that met the inclusion criteria. 

Four apps provided support from a mental health professional. Two of the five evidence-based mental health apps are currently commercially available in app stores. 

The study concluded that "results showed significant reductions in depression, stress and substance use." The mobiletype app was the only intervention that failed to yield any significant direct effect on depression.

Nevertheless, "given the small number of studies and participants included in this review, the high risk of bias, and unknown efficacy of long-term follow-up, current findings should be interpreted with caution, pending replication," warns the article. 

In related news, the Department of Defense recently added new features to its smartphone application designed to monitor a soldier's long-term emotional health. The mobile app, called the T2 Mood Tracker, now enables users to send their personal information to their home computers and to share it with their healthcare providers.

The app, which is used in conjunction with therapy, records a range of emotions for anxiety, depression, head injury, stress, post-traumatic stress and a user's general well-being. The data, which is saved in a graphical or spreadsheet format, is then transferred via e-mail or other wireless connection to a patient's therapist.

To learn more:
- read the study in JMIR