Mobile Mental Health Apps Useful for Depression


A meta-analysis supports the use of mobile mental health apps, both as a standalone and added to conventional treatment, for adults with moderate to severe depression.


  • Mobile mental health apps have proliferated but data on their effectiveness in different patient populations is lacking.

  • To investigate, researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 13 randomized clinical trials assessing treatment efficacy of mobile mental health apps in 1470 adults with moderate to severe depression.

  • The primary outcome was change in depression symptoms from pre- to post-treatment; secondary outcomes included patient-level factors associated with app efficacy.


  • Mobile app interventions were associated with significantly reduced depressive symptoms vs both active and inactive control groups, with a medium effect size (standardized mean difference [SMD] 0.50).

  • App interventions delivered for < 8 weeks had a significantly greater effect size than those delivered for 8+ weeks (SMD 0.77 vs 0.43). Apps were more effective in patients not on medication or in therapy. Apps offering rewards or incentives also appeared to be more effective.

  • Interventions with in-app notifications were associated with significantly lower treatment outcomes (SMD 0.45) than interventions without (SMD 0.45 vs 0.71).


“The significant treatment efficacy of app-based interventions compared with active and inactive controls suggests the potential of mobile app interventions as an alternative to conventional psychotherapy, with further merits in accessibility, financial affordability, and safety from stigma,” the authors write.


The study, with first author Hayoung Bae, BA, with Korea University School of Psychology, Seoul, South Korea, was published online November 20 in JAMA Network Open.


The findings are based on a small number of trials, with significant heterogeneity among the included trials. The analysis included only English-language publications. Using summary data for the subgroup analyses might have prevented a detailed understanding of the moderating associations of individual participant characteristics.


The study was supported by a grant from the National Research Foundation funded by the Korean government. The authors report no relevant financial relationships.

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