Apply This!: Clinically Meaningful Mental Health App Use Behaviors that Impacts Depression

An emergent theme in this blog is related to research that delineates different models and categorizations related to how mentaltech is being adopted. Historically, we have blogged about such in these posts:
  1. HCP Adoption Levels Model
  2. Cultural Tailoring of Teletherapy
  3. StressTech Adoption patterns and insights
This post, I summarize findings of a paper “Clinical Meaningful Use of Mental Health Apps and its Effects on Depression by Zhang, et al.. My good colleague David C. Mohr is also party to this paper.

It probably goes without saying that user engagement is mandatory for mentaltech success. What should not go without saying, however, is what type of user engagement is meaningful in getting an improved outcome, in this case, for depression and anxiety. This is the point fo this paper’s study, to classify the most impactful use behaviors.

Such a classification has implications for app and intervention design, user personas and performance measurement. This is not rocket science but it need not be to be useful and to set a categorization for others of us to use in our own mentaltech research, strategy planning, execution, and measurement. It certainly is a stepping stone for further research and validated application.

The “clinically meaningful” app use behaviors identified are a) learning and practicing, b) goal setting and c) self-tracking. By ailment, self-tracking had a demonstrable effect on depression. Learning, practicing and goal setting, only a moderate effect. Interestingly, none of these behaviors seemed to have a demonstrable impact on anxiety.

While we cannot base absolute truth on one study, directionally, these are interesting correlates. They are promising for depression but call into question app use for anxiety, or at least those of the type included in NorthWestern University’s IntelliCare Mental Health App Suite which was used in this study.

Relating these findings to my own anecdotal experience, it makes sense. These are the key roles that we see mentaltech playing in basic use and even cited such in our StressTech course even before seeing these findings. I have found self-tracking, whether in the form of self-journaling in CBT apps, or breathe tracking via my Spire , to be most perceptually tangible and behaviorally influential. The more abstract and intellectual behaviors of learning and goal setting are relatively less so, and even practicing is too abstract when not complemented by tracking which allows a line of sight to improvement, or not.

 

Certainly. more research in this area is needed, and this is a considerable start. Kudos to Renwen Zhang and her team for this studied enlightenment!

 

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