Smartphone interventions have a positive effect on depressive symptoms and may be a promising self-management tool for patients with depression, according to a study published in World Psychiatry.

New advancements in smartphone technology may present an opportunity to deliver mental health interventions on a population scale. Joseph Firth, from the School of Science and Health at Western Sydney University in Campbelltown, Australia, and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 18 randomized controlled trials that evaluated 22 smartphone apps and included 3,414 participants.

The researchers found that smartphone mental health interventions yielded a small-to-moderate positive effect for reducing depressive symptoms compared with control conditions (Hedges’ g=0.383). Smartphone interventions had a moderate positive effect compared with inactive controls (g=0.558), but only a small effect compared with active control conditions (g=0.216).

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The researchers found that smartphone interventions that involved human feedback had a small, nonsignificant effect on depressive symptoms (g=0.137), while the interventions without human feedback had moderate positive effects (g=0.465). Additionally, cognitive training apps had a significantly smaller effect size on depression outcomes than those that focused on mental health.

“Given the early indication of efficacy, and rapidly growing empirical research base, it is possible to envisage that continued technological advances will ultimately lead to scalable and cost-effective digital treatments for depressive symptoms,” the authors stated. “Thus, along with continuing to design and evaluate optimal apps, further research should also be dedicated towards establishing feasible methods for implementing smartphone-based interventions within healthcare systems.”


Firth J, Torous J, Nicholas J, et al. The efficacy of smartphone-based mental health interventions for depressive symptoms: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. World Psychiatry. 2017;16:287-298.