How do you choose a mental health app for your smartphone?

At some times in our lives, we might want to get support with our mental health and wellbeing. Perhaps we are struggling with a particular issue, or maybe we want to be proactive and take steps to make sure we are adopting healthy practices to keep us on top of things. This days, we have our smartphones with us almost all the time, and this is a natural place for many people to turn to for support or inspiration. But how do you go about choosing a mental health or wellbeing app? And do you know if it is a good one or not?

Listen to my conversation with David Bakker, a doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at Monash University in Australia. We talk about his recent research reviewing mental health apps, and some evidence-based recommendations for future app development. Finally, we talk about his involvement in developing some if these apps as part of a team that is working to improve the choices for people using these apps, and the clinicians who might be working with them.

Here is the link to the full paper we talk about in this week’s show:

And here is the abstract for context:


The number of mental health apps (MHapps) developed and now available to smartphone users has increased in recent years. MHapps and other technology-based solutions have the potential to play an important part in the future of mental health care; however, there is no single guide for the development of evidence-based MHapps. Many currently available MHapps lack features that would greatly improve their functionality, or include features that are not optimized. Furthermore, MHapp developers rarely conduct or publish trial-based experimental validation of their apps. Indeed, a previous systematic review revealed a complete lack of trial-based evidence for many of the hundreds of MHapps available.


To guide future MHapp development, a set of clear, practical, evidence-based recommendations is presented for MHapp developers to create better, more rigorous apps.


A literature review was conducted, scrutinizing research across diverse fields, including mental health interventions, preventative health, mobile health, and mobile app design.


Sixteen recommendations were formulated. Evidence for each recommendation is discussed, and guidance on how these recommendations might be integrated into the overall design of an MHapp is offered. Each recommendation is rated on the basis of the strength of associated evidence. It is important to design an MHapp using a behavioral plan and interactive framework that encourages the user to engage with the app; thus, it may not be possible to incorporate all 16 recommendations into a single MHapp.


Randomized controlled trials are required to validate future MHapps and the principles upon which they are designed, and to further investigate the recommendations presented in this review. Effective MHapps are required to help prevent mental health problems and to ease the burden on health systems

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