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Mental Health Apps: 2017 study

Mental health apps increase users’ motivation, confidence and control

Recent research by Brigham Young University (BYU), USA, found that 90% of users of mental health apps and emotional health apps reported the following; “increased motivation, desire to set goals, confidence, control, and intentions to be mentally and emotionally healthy”.

Firstly, the 2017 study was led by BYU health science professor, Ben Crookston. It was set out to examine the extent to which using mental and emotional health apps could be associated with positive changes in behaviour. The researchers wanted to test whether the theory of behaviour change was matched by any changes in actual behaviour. As reported by the app users, this included knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, self-efficacy, and intentions to behave.

They surveyed 150 users over six months, and the overall findings “show that mental and emotional health focused apps have the ability to positively change behaviour ”.  Prof Crookston commented on publication of the report on 17 October 2017. “This is great news for people looking for inexpensive, easily accessible resources to help combat mental and emotional health illness and challenges.”

Key findings
  • Motivation: mental or emotional self-help apps increased their motivation to be mentally and emotionally healthy. (44% of the respondents agreed and 45.3% strongly agreed)
  • Confidence: the app increased their confidence. This is so they can be mentally and emotionally healthy. (48.7% agreed and 40.7% strongly agreed)
  • Control: mental and emotional self-help apps were perceived to increase the control over mental and emotional health (44.7% agreed and 38.7% strongly agreed). Intentions to be mentally and emotionally healthy (38.0% agreed and 50.7% strongly agreed). Following on, attitudes about the importance of being mentally and emotionally healthy (46% agreed and 42% strongly agreed).
  • Goal-setting: the apps increased their desire to set goals to be mentally and emotionally healthy. (46% agreed and 47.3% strongly agreed). Following on, to achieve mental and emotional health goals (52.7% and 36%).

Other findings revealed participants reporting varying levels of disagreement or neutrality with the following statements:

  • Firstly, the app(s) increased my belief that people important to me want me to be mentally and emotionally healthy. (2.0% strongly disagree, 8.0% disagree, and 25.3% neutral)
  • Secondly, the app(s) increased my perception that many other people are mentally and emotionally healthy. (1.3% strongly disagree, 15.3% disagree, and 26.0% neutral)
  • Thirdly, the app(s) increased my knowledge of the diseases/disorders that are caused by poor mental health. (1.3% strongly disagreed, 14.0% disagreed, and 17.3% neutral)
  • Following on, the app(s) increased the social support I have received for being mentally/emotionally healthy. (4.0% strongly disagreed, 18.0% disagreed, and 18.0% neutral)
  • Lastly, the apps(s) increased the positive feedback I have received for being mentally/emotionally healthy. (3.3% strongly disagreed, 13.3% strongly disagreed, and 14.7% neutral).
Further research

Following on, the authors concluded that further research was needed into the actual mechanisms of how self-help apps change behaviour. This would greatly benefit users, developers and health providers of future apps. They commented that “specific apps should be researched to determine the ones that are most effective in reducing mental illness and improving mental and emotional wellness.” Furthermore, they called on designers and app developers to improve social support and feedback to change behaviour. In addition, this was an area that study participants considered to be the least effective. This was in their own user experience.

NEXT STEPS: 

See blog post ‘Diet and nutrition apps can lead to positive behaviour change, study finds’…

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Download the full report ‘Mental and Emotional Self-Help Technology Apps: Cross-Sectional Study of Theory, Technology, and Mental Health Behaviors’…

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See blog post ‘Physical activity apps can help change behaviour, study finds’…

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For full results of the study into physical activity apps…

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For full results of study into diet and nutrition apps:

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