A systematic review of the effectiveness of mobile apps for monitoring and management of mental health symptoms or disorders

J Psychiatr Res. 2018 Dec:107:73-78. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2018.10.006. Epub 2018 Oct 5.


Background: There are a growing number of mobile apps available for monitoring and management of mental health symptoms or disorders. However, clinically validated evidence for most of them is unclear; their benefits to patients on long term use are thus debatable.

Objective: This updated review aimed to systematically appraise the available research evidence of the efficacy and acceptability of mobile apps for mental health in all ages.

Methods: A comprehensive literature search (May 2013 to December 2017) in PubMed, Cochrane Library, EMBASE, Web of Science, and Google Scholar was conducted. Abstracts were included if they described mental health apps (targeting depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), substance use disorders, sleep disorders, and suicidal behaviors) delivered on mobile devices for all ages.

Results: In total, 1501 abstracts were identified. Of these, 17 publications describing 16 apps targeting anxiety/stress, alcohol disorder, sleep disorder, depression, suicidal behaviors, and PTSD met the inclusion criteria. Five studies randomized individuals to trial conditions, and 14 apps were proven to have clinically validated evidence in reducing mental health symptoms or disorder.

Conclusions: Mental health apps have potentials in improving the monitoring and management of mental health symptoms or disorders. However, majority of the apps that are currently available lack clinically validated evidence of their efficacy. Given the number and pace at which mobile Health (mHealth) apps are being released, further robust research is warranted to develop and test evidence-based programs.

Keywords: Mental health; Mobile application; Mobile health (mHealth); Mobile phones; Review; Self-help.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Disease Management*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Monitoring, Ambulatory*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Telemedicine*