mHealth Apps Show Promise for Mental Health

Jack Murtha
NOVEMBER 20, 2017
brigham young,benjamin crookston,hca news,mhealth
Image has been resized. Courtesy: Jason Howie, Flickr

For those who remain skeptical of the strength of mobile health apps, here’s another reason to take the medium seriously. Three reasons, actually.

Researchers from Brigham Young University recently published a study on how adept mHealth apps are at changing users’ behavior as it relates to mental and emotional health. The results? Roughly 90% of participants said they grew more confident and motivated to improve their mental health, according to the study.

“Our findings show that mental and emotional health-focused apps have the ability to positively change behavior,” Benjamin Crookston, PhD, the lead author and a health science researcher, told the university. “This is great news for people looking for inexpensive, easily accessible resources to help combat mental and emotional health illness and challenges.”

Researchers performed a cross-sectional survey of 150 people who used mental and emotional health apps in the past 6 months. They asked participants about theory-based items, how often and how exactly they use the apps, and behavior change, among other questions. Then the team employed multiple regression analysis to identify associated factors and control for variables, according to the study.

Specifically, researchers found that engagement with the app was associated with reported changes in theoretical behavior, according to the paper. Perceived behavior change, meanwhile, had a positive relationship with theory, engagement, frequency of use, and income, according to the findings.

“These apps are engaging,” Joshua West, PhD, told Brigham Young University, “and if we can get people to use them more often, the potential certainly exists to help people change their behavior.”

The research squad intends to study which apps—meditation, faith-based apps, drug adherence, and more—most effectively improve this sort of health in users. Further, they wrote in the study, future research should examine how “key theoretical constructs” could be used in the design of mental and emotional health apps to come.

“As apps are evaluated and additional theory-based apps are created, cost-effective self-help apps may become common preventative and treatment tools in the mental health field,” the researchers concluded.

The Journal of Medical Internet Research published the study, “Mental and Emotional Self-Help Technology Apps: Cross-Sectional Study of Theory, Technology, and Mental Health Behaviors,” last month.

The same researchers previously examined how diet and exercise apps affect users’ behaviors and thoughts. In those studies, according to the university, more than 90% of users claimed to reap greater levels of motivation and desire to eat more healthily or work out more often.

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