Background: Mobile health (mHealth) apps offer new opportunities to deliver psychological treatments for mental illness in an accessible, private format. The results of several previous systematic reviews support the use of app-based mHealth interventions for anxiety and depression symptom management. However, it remains unclear how much or how long the minimum treatment “dose” is for an mHealth intervention to be effective. Just-in-time adaptive intervention (JITAI) has been introduced in the mHealth domain to facilitate behavior changes and is positioned to guide the design of mHealth interventions with enhanced adherence and effectiveness. Objective: Inspired by the JITAI framework, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to evaluate the dose effectiveness of app-based mHealth interventions for anxiety and depression symptom reduction. Methods: We conducted a literature search on 7 databases (ie, Ovid MEDLINE, Embase, PsycInfo, Scopus, Cochrane Library (eg, CENTRAL), ScienceDirect, and ClinicalTrials, for publications from January 2012 to April 2020. We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) evaluating app-based mHealth interventions for anxiety and depression. The study selection and data extraction process followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. We estimated the pooled effect size using Hedge g and appraised study quality using the revised Cochrane risk-of-bias tool for RCTs. Results: We included 15 studies involving 2627 participants for 18 app-based mHealth interventions. Participants in the intervention groups showed a significant effect on anxiety (Hedge g=–.10, 95% CI –0.14 to –0.06, I2=0%) but not on depression (Hedge g=–.08, 95% CI –0.23 to 0.07, I2=4%). Interventions of at least 7 weeks’ duration had larger effect sizes on anxiety symptom reduction. Conclusions: There is inconclusive evidence for clinical use of app-based mHealth interventions for anxiety and depression at the current stage due to the small to nonsignificant effects of the interventions and study quality concerns. The recommended dose of mHealth interventions and the sustainability of intervention effectiveness remain unclear and require further investigation.
- intervention dose effectiveness
- mental health
- mobile health
- smartphone apps
- systematic review