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Smartphone Apps

Standalone Smartphone Apps for Mental Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

In a recently published journal article, researchers Kiona K. Weisel, Lukas M. Fuhrmann, Matthias Berking, Harald Baumeister, Pim Cuijpers and David D. Ebert conducted a meta-analysis to evaluate the efficacy of smartphone apps as stand-alone interventions for mental health issues.

Smartphone AppsThey begin their paper by outlining how the market for smartphone apps to treat mental health issues is growing rapidly, while the “evidence of standalone apps for treating mental health symptoms is still unclear.” They conducted a comprehensive literature search in February 2018, looking at published, randomized controlled trials. More specifically, they considered articles that reviewed the effects of standalone mental health apps used by adults with heightened symptom severity and which had a control group.

Design: Their design was a random-effects model. In sum, 5945 records were identified and 165 full-text articles were examined by two independent researchers. The researchers ultimately chose to include 19 trials with 3681 participants. The mental health apps chosen for inclusion claimed to address the following mental health disorders: depression, anxiety, substance use, self-injurious thoughts and behaviors, PTSD, and sleep problems.

Results: Positive effects were found for effects on depression and on smoking behavior. No significant pooled effects were found for anxiety, suicidal ideation, self-injury, or alcohol use. Effect sizes for single trials ranged from g = −0.05 to 0.14 for PTSD and g = 0.72 to 0.84 for insomnia.

Conclusion: In the words of the researchers, “Although some trials showed potential of apps targeting mental health symptoms, using smartphone apps as standalone psychological interventions cannot be recommended based on the current level of evidence.”

Where does that leave you if your client or patient insists that an app is helping them? Please leave your comments in the discussion area below.

Reference: Weisel, K. K., Fuhrmann, L. M., Berking, M., Baumeister, H., Cuijpers, P., & Ebert, D. D. (2019). Standalone smartphone apps for mental health—a systematic review and meta-analysis. npj Digital Medicine, 2(1), 1-10.

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