1. In this meta-analysis, the efficacy of mental health apps (MHApps) at increasing emotional regulation, mental health, and wellbeing were assessed.
2. Pooled analysis demonstrated that MHApps slightly reduced mental health symptoms, enhanced wellbeing, and moderately aided emotional regulation.
Evidence Rating Level: 1 (Excellent)
Mental health disorders disproportionately impact young adults, significantly increasing in prevalence over the past decade. Mobile applications are rapidly being developed to improve healthcare, including mobile clinics, health trackers, and mental health apps (MHApps). These technologies may make mental healthcare more accessible and improve outcomes.
A systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted to examine MHApps currently available and studies evaluating their efficacy until January 2021. Studies were included which looked at the impact of MHApps on mental health in adults without a formal mental health diagnosis aged 18-45 years. Exclusion criteria included studies focused on physical health, studies with an in-person intervention component, and studies including a technology other than a mobile phone. Outcomes assessed were emotional regulation, wellbeing, and mental health symptoms.
Of 3,156 abstracts screened, 52 articles (48 MHApps) were ultimately included which were conducted in 15 different countries. Wellbeing was assessed in 13 studies, with a small significant positive impact being demonstrated on pooled analysis. Although 19 studies evaluated mental health symptoms, there was a significant amount of heterogeneity in the types of symptoms measured. A marginal but significant improvement was seen in mental health symptoms overall. Only 6 studies measured emotional regulation, although a moderate but significant improvement was seen in participants in these studies. The major limitations of the present meta-analysis included heterogeneity between studies, small sample size, and significant amount of pilot trials included. Nonetheless, the findings of this study suggest that MHApps may improve mental health and wellbeing in a user-friendly and low-cost format.
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