Mobile Health for Perinatal Depression and Anxiety: Scoping Review

J Med Internet Res. 2020 Apr 13;22(4):e17011. doi: 10.2196/17011.


Background: The perinatal period is a vulnerable time during which depression and anxiety commonly occur. If left untreated or undertreated, there may be significant adverse effects; therefore, access to rapid, effective treatment is essential. Treatments for mild-to-moderate symptoms according to a stepped-care approach involve psychoeducation, peer support, and psychological therapy, all of which have been shown to be efficaciously delivered through digital means. Women experience significant barriers to care because of system- and individual-level factors, such as cost, accessibility, and availability of childcare. The use of mobile phones is widespread in this population, and the delivery of mental health services via mobile phones has been suggested as a means of reducing barriers.

Objective: This study aimed to understand the extent, range, and nature of mobile health (mHealth) tools for prevention, screening, and treatment of perinatal depression and anxiety in order to identify gaps and inform opportunities for future work.

Methods: Using a scoping review framework, 4 databases were searched for terms related to mobile phones, perinatal period, and either depression or anxiety. A total of 477 unique records were retrieved, 81 of which were reviewed by full text. Peer-reviewed publications were included if they described the population as women pregnant or up to 1 year postpartum and a tool explicitly delivered via a mobile phone for preventing, screening, or treating depression or anxiety. Studies published in 2007 or earlier, not in English, or as case reports were excluded.

Results: A total of 26 publications describing 22 unique studies were included (77% published after 2017). mHealth apps were slightly more common than texting-based interventions (12/22, 54% vs 10/22, 45%). Most tools were for either depression (12/22, 54%) or anxiety and depression (9/22, 41%); 1 tool was for anxiety only (1/22, 4%). Interventions starting in pregnancy and continuing into the postpartum period were rare (2/22, 9%). Tools were for prevention (10/22, 45%), screening (6/22, 27%), and treatment (6/22, 27%). Interventions delivered included psychoeducation (16/22, 73%), peer support (4/22, 18%), and psychological therapy (4/22, 18%). Cost was measured in 14% (3/22) studies.

Conclusions: Future work in this growing area should incorporate active psychological treatment, address continuity of care across the perinatal period, and consider clinical sustainability to realize the potential of mHealth.

Keywords: anxiety; depression; mHealth; mental health; mobile phone; postpartum; pregnancy; smartphone; text message.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy*
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Perinatal Care / methods*
  • Pregnancy
  • Telemedicine / methods*