Young people want trustworthy mental health apps

Young people may not be receiving the mental health support they need because of a lack of trust in the smartphone apps that deliver such services, a study suggests.

Questions about the effectiveness of apps or online resources in managing mental health are also preventing young people from engaging with them, experts say.

Researchers say if concerns around trust and usefulness could be addressed young people might be more likely to use a digital mental health resource to help manage problems like stress, anxiety and low mood. 

group of young people using apps

Digital interventions

Around one in five people aged 17 to 24 years struggle with their mental health, experts say.

Digital mental health interventions are increasingly being presented as a solution as they are convenient, accessible and in many cases, free to use.

Services available include mindfulness and meditation apps, screening apps - which aim to determine your mood via an online questionnaire – and treatment apps offering on-line therapy. Online tutorials or courses to help people manage their mental wellbeing are also widely available.

However, the uptake of these tools is low among young people. The University of Edinburgh study is the first to evaluate what motivates them to engage with these resources.

Attitudes to technologies

Researchers quizzed 248 young people aged 17 to 25 and used statistical models to assess their attitudes to the technologies, what they take into account before using them, and their previous engagement.

They found participants were relatively neutral towards the idea of digital mental health interventions.

If they perceived the technology as trustworthy and useful, researchers found there was a small to moderate positive association with higher intentions to use a resource.

Levels of acceptance

Perceived ease of use and mental health need was not found to make a notable difference in young peoples’ intentions to use a resource.

Overall, researchers only found moderate levels of acceptance for mental health technologies based on the group’s experiences and perceptions, which they say may represent a barrier in uptake of the services among young people.

Researchers hope the findings will help shape the technologies development to ensure it maximises the potential for digital tools to address the challenges in youth mental health.

Digital interventions only present a viable solution for young people if they are trusted and considered useful by those who need them. These findings suggest there should be a focus on developing trustworthy digital health interventions with evidence about usefulness and effectiveness to improve uptake among young people.

Dr Vilas SawrikarSchool of Health in Social Science

The study is published in Health Policy and Technology.

Experts from Jisc – a non-profit organisation which provides support with technology to UK further and higher education and research – contributed to the study.

Service designers and app developers of digital interventions should provide quality evidence and examples of real use cases. Reassurance about security and data management need to be transparent. Just as a reputable clinician would not recommend a drug or talking therapy that had a scant evidence base, we need to apply a similar level of rigour to digital interventions.

Ms Kellie MoteAssistive Technology Specialist at JISC

School of Health in Social Science  

Link to study 


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