Smartphone, Social Media, and Mental Health App Use in an Acute Transdiagnostic Psychiatric Sample

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2019 Jun 7;7(6):e13364. doi: 10.2196/13364.


Background: Despite high rates of smartphone ownership in psychiatric populations, there are very little data available characterizing smartphone use in individuals with mental illness. In particular, few studies have examined the interest and use of smartphones to support mental health.

Objective: This study aimed to (1) characterize general smartphone app and social media usage in an acute transdiagnostic psychiatric sample with high smartphone ownership, (2) characterize current engagement and interest in the use of smartphone apps to support mental health, and (3) test demographic and clinical predictors of smartphone use.

Methods: The survey was completed by all patients attending an adult partial hospital program, with no exclusion criteria. The primary outcomes were frequency of use of general and mental health smartphone apps (smartphone use survey) and the frequency of social media use and phone-checking behavior (mobile technology engagement scale).

Results: Overall, 322 patients (aged mean 33.49, SD 13.87 years; 57% female) reported that their most frequently used app functions were texting, email, and social media. Younger individuals reported more frequent use across most types of apps. Baseline depression and anxiety symptoms were not associated with the frequency of app use. Participants reported health care, calendar, and texting apps as most supportive of their mental health and social media apps as most negatively affecting their mental health. Most patients reported an interest in (73.9% [238/322]) and willingness to use (81.3% [262/322]) a smartphone app to monitor their mental health condition. Less than half (44%) of the patients currently had a mental health app downloaded on their smartphone, with mindfulness and meditation apps being the most common type.

Conclusions: The high interest in and willingness to use mental health apps, paired with the only moderate current reported usage, indicate a potential unmet treatment opportunity in psychiatric populations. There is potential to optimize non-mental health-specific apps to better support the needs of those with mental illness and to design a new wave of mental health apps that match the needs of these populations as well as the way they use smartphones in daily life.

Keywords: mobile health; serious mental illness; smartphone; social media.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / trends*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mobile Applications
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Media / instrumentation*
  • Social Media / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires