Android and iPhone Mobile Apps for Psychosocial Wellness and Stress Management: Systematic Search in App Stores and Literature Review

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2020 May 22;8(5):e17798. doi: 10.2196/17798.


Background: In an oversaturated market of publicly available mobile apps for psychosocial self-care and stress management, health care providers, patients, and consumers interested in mental health-related apps may wonder which, if any, are efficacious. Readily available metrics for consumers include user popularity and media buzz rather than scientific evidence.

Objective: This systematic review aimed to (1) examine the breadth of therapeutic contents and features of psychosocial wellness and stress management apps available to self-help seekers for public download and (2) determine which of these apps have original research support.

Methods: First, we conducted a systematic review of publicly available apps on the iPhone App Store (Apple Inc) and Android Google Play (Google LLC) platforms using conventional self-help-seeking search terms related to wellness and stress. The results were limited to English-language apps available for free download. In total, 2 reviewers independently evaluated all apps and discussed the findings to reach 100% consensus regarding inclusion. Second, a literature review was conducted on the included apps to identify supporting studies with original data collection.

Results: We screened 3287 apps and found 1009 psychosocial wellness and stress management apps. Content varied widely. The most common evidence-based strategy was mindfulness-meditation, followed by positive psychology and goal setting. Most apps were intended to be used as self-help interventions, with only 1.09% (11/1009) involving an electronic therapist and 1.88% (19/1009) designed as a supplement to in-person psychotherapy. Only 4.66% (47/1009) of apps targeted individuals with psychological disorders, and less than 1% of apps (6/1009, 0.59%) targeted individuals with other chronic illnesses. Approximately 2% (21/1009, 2.08%) were supported by original research publications, with a total of 25 efficacy studies and 10 feasibility studies. The Headspace mindfulness app had the most evidence, including 8 efficacy studies. Most other scientifically backed apps were supported by a single feasibility or efficacy study.

Conclusions: Only 2.08% (21/1009) of publicly available psychosocial wellness and stress management mobile apps discoverable to self-help seekers have published, peer-reviewed evidence of feasibility and/or efficacy. Clinicians and investigators may use these findings to help patients and families navigate the volume of emerging digital health interventions for stress management and wellness.

Keywords: mHealth; mental health; mobile health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires