Fundamentals for Future Mobile-Health (mHealth): A Systematic Review of Mobile Phone and Web-Based Text Messaging in Mental Health

J Med Internet Res. 2016 Jun 10;18(6):e135. doi: 10.2196/jmir.5066.


Background: Mobile phone text messages (short message service, SMS) are used pervasively as a form of communication. Almost 100% of the population uses text messaging worldwide and this technology is being suggested as a promising tool in psychiatry. Text messages can be sent either from a classic mobile phone or a web-based application. Reviews are needed to better understand how text messaging can be used in mental health care and other fields of medicine.

Objective: The objective of the study was to review the literature regarding the use of mobile phone text messaging in mental health care.

Methods: We conducted a thorough literature review of studies involving text messaging in health care management. Searches included PubMed, PsycINFO, Cochrane, Scopus, Embase and Web of Science databases on May 25, 2015. Studies reporting the use of text messaging as a tool in managing patients with mental health disorders were included. Given the heterogeneity of studies, this review was summarized using a descriptive approach.

Results: From 677 initial citations, 36 studies were included in the review. Text messaging was used in a wide range of mental health situations, notably substance abuse (31%), schizophrenia (22%), and affective disorders (17%). We identified four ways in which text messages were used: reminders (14%), information (17%), supportive messages (42%), and self-monitoring procedures (42%). Applications were sometimes combined.

Conclusions: We report growing interest in text messaging since 2006. Text messages have been proposed as a health care tool in a wide spectrum of psychiatric disorders including substance abuse, schizophrenia, affective disorders, and suicide prevention. Most papers described pilot studies, while some randomized clinical trials (RCTs) were also reported. Overall, a positive attitude toward text messages was reported. RCTs reported improved treatment adherence and symptom surveillance. Other positive points included an increase in appointment attendance and in satisfaction with management and health care services. Insight into message content, preventative strategies, and innovative approaches derived from the mental health field may be applicable in other medical specialties.

Keywords: Internet; cell phones; medical informatics; mental health; text messaging.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Phone / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Medical Informatics / methods*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health*
  • Telemedicine / statistics & numerical data*
  • Text Messaging / statistics & numerical data*