Background: There are an increasing number of mobile apps available for adolescents with mental health problems and an increasing interest in assimilating mobile health (mHealth) into mental health services. Despite the growing number of apps available, the evidence base for their efficacy is unclear.
Objective: This review aimed to systematically appraise the available research evidence on the efficacy and acceptability of mobile apps for mental health in children and adolescents younger than 18 years.
Methods: The following were systematically searched for relevant publications between January 2008 and July 2016: APA PsychNet, ACM Digital Library, Cochrane Library, Community Care Inform-Children, EMBASE, Google Scholar, PubMed, Scopus, Social Policy and Practice, Web of Science, Journal of Medical Internet Research, Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, and OpenGrey. Abstracts were included if they described mental health apps (targeting depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, self-harm, suicide prevention, conduct disorder, eating disorders and body image issues, schizophrenia, psychosis, and insomnia) for mobile devices and for use by adolescents younger than 18 years.
Results: A total of 24 publications met the inclusion criteria. These described 15 apps, two of which were available to download. Two small randomized trials and one case study failed to demonstrate a significant effect of three apps on intended mental health outcomes. Articles that analyzed the content of six apps for children and adolescents that were available to download established that none had undergone any research evaluation. Feasibility outcomes suggest acceptability of apps was good and app usage was moderate.
Conclusions: Overall, there is currently insufficient research evidence to support the effectiveness of apps for children, preadolescents, and adolescents with mental health problems. Given the number and pace at which mHealth apps are being released on app stores, methodologically robust research studies evaluating their safety, efficacy, and effectiveness is promptly needed.
Keywords: adolescent; child; mHealth; mental health; mobile apps; preadolescent; review; self-help; smartphone apps.
©Rebecca Grist, Joanna Porter, Paul Stallard. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 25.05.2017.