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Study: Texting Proves Better than mHealth Apps for Treating Mental Illness

January 30, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Texting may be a more suitable treatment aid for those with mental illness than mobile applications, according to new study led by researchers from Clemson University.

Researchers from Clemson, in collaboration with researchers from Indiana University and the Centerstone Research Institute, surveyed 325 patients currently receiving treatment at community-based outpatient clinics for mental illness to determine their cell phone ownership and usage patterns. The results showed that cell phone ownership among these mental health patients was comparable with ownership among a nationally representative, non-patient sample, with the exception that more patients than non-patients shared their mobile phones.

“Among mental health patients, we found that texting was the most popular feature used and downloading apps was the least popular,” said Kelly Caine, assistant professor in Clemson’s School of Computing. “The patients often shared phones, which makes providing private, secure messages difficult.”

Almost 80 percent of the patients surveyed used texting and many did not use mobile applications, meaning that texting may be accessible to the majority of patients and may therefore make a more suitable treatment aid. Furthermore, participants who already were comfortable with texting also reported that they were comfortable with the concept of texting their mental health provider, implying that texting may be an appropriate feature for mHealth interventions.

While there has been much research from the technology community regarding health monitoring and care delivery applications for older adults, chronic disease management and preventive health, there have been fewer investigations of ways that readily available technologies can be used to assist in the treatment of mental health disorders, according to the researchers.

In the paper, published in the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, the researches write the cell phones and other mHealth technologies that are designed considering the ownership, usage patterns and needs of patients have the potential to be successful treatment aids. “When designed from a patient-centered perspective, such as understanding cell phone sharing habits, these technologies have the potential to be useful and usable to the largest number of patients,” Caine said.

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