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Front. Psychiatry | doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00831

The Digital Psychiatrist: In Search of Evidence-Based Apps for Anxiety and Depression

  • 1University of New England, Australia

One of the biggest growth areas in e-mental health resources has been the development and use of mobile mental health apps for smartphones and tablet devices. Such apps are being downloaded at increasing rates, but there have been questions about their efficacy and the research methodologies used to examine this. A review of the major app marketplaces, the Apple App Store and Google Play store, was conducted to locate apps claiming to offer a therapeutic treatment for depression and/or anxiety, and have research evidence for their effectiveness, according to their app store descriptions. App store descriptions were also analyzed to determine whether the app had been developed with mental health expert input; whether they had been developed in association with a government body, academic institution, or medical facility; and, whether or not they were free to download. Overall, 3.41% of apps had research to justify their claims of effectiveness, with the majority of that research undertaken by those involved in the development of the app. Other results indicated that 30.38% of shortlisted apps claimed to have expert development input; 20.48% had an affiliation with a government body, academic institution, or medical facility; and, 74.06% were free to download. Future research must consider other methodologies that may facilitate more research being completed on a greater number of apps, and future development needs to incorporate greater levels of input by mental health experts. Ways in which app stores could play a key role in encouraging more scientific research into the effectiveness of the mental health apps they sell are discussed.

Keywords: mHealth, Mental Health, Apps, App Store, Depression, Anxiety, e-mental health, Digital

Received: 29 May 2019; Accepted: 21 Oct 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Marshall, Dunstan and Bartik. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Mr. Jamie M. Marshall, University of New England, Armidale, Australia, j.marshall@snowflakeclinic.com.au