A smartphone-based self-management intervention for bipolar disorder (livewell): User-centered development approach

Geneva K. Jonathan, Cynthia A. Dopke, Tania Michaels, Andrew Bank, Clair R. Martin, Krina Adhikari, Rachel L. Krakauer, Chloe Ryan, McBride Alyssa McBride, Pamela Babington, Ella Frauenhofer, Jamilah Silver, Courtney Capra, Melanie Simon, Mark Begale, David C. Mohr, Evan H. Goulding*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that results in significant morbidity and mortality. Pharmacotherapy is the primary treatment for bipolar disorder; however, adjunctive psychotherapy can help individuals use self-management strategies to improve outcomes. Yet access to this therapy is limited. Smartphones and other technologies have the potential to increase access to therapeutic strategies that enhance self-management while simultaneously providing real-time user feedback and provider alerts to augment care. Objective: This paper describes the user-centered development of LiveWell, a smartphone-based self-management intervention for bipolar disorder, to contribute to and support the ongoing improvement and dissemination of technology-based mental health interventions. Methods: Individuals with bipolar disorder first participated in a field trial of a simple smartphone app for self-monitoring of behavioral targets. To develop a complete technology-based intervention for bipolar disorder, this field trial was followed by design sessions, usability testing, and a pilot study of a smartphone-based self-management intervention for bipolar disorder. Throughout all phases of development, intervention revisions were made based on user feedback. Results: The core of the LiveWell intervention consists of a daily self-monitoring tool, the Daily Check-in. This self-monitoring tool underwent multiple revisions during the user-centered development process. Daily Check-in mood and thought rating scales were collapsed into a single wellness rating scale to accommodate user development of personalized scale anchors. These anchors are meant to assist users in identifying early warning signs and symptoms of impending episodes to take action based on personalized plans. When users identified personal anchors for the wellness scale, the anchors most commonly reflected behavioral signs and symptoms (40%), followed by cognitive (25%), mood (15%), physical (10%), and motivational (7%) signs and symptoms. Changes to the Daily Check-in were also made to help users distinguish between getting adequate sleep and keeping a regular routine. At the end of the pilot study, users reported that the Daily Check-in made them more aware of early warning signs and symptoms and how much they were sleeping. Users also reported that they liked personalizing their anchors and plans and felt this process was useful. Users experienced some difficulties with developing, tracking, and achieving target goals. Users also did not consistently follow up with app recommendations to contact providers when Daily Check-in data suggested they needed additional assistance. As a result, the human support roles for the technology were expanded beyond app use support to include support for self-management and clinical care communication. The development of these human support roles was aided by feedback on the technology's usability from the users and the coaches who provided the human support. Conclusions: User input guided the development of intervention content, technology, and coaching support for LiveWell. Users valued the provision of monitoring tools and the ability to personalize plans for staying well, supporting the role of monitoring and personalization as important features of digital mental health technologies. Users also valued human support of the technology in the form of a coach, and user difficulties with aspects of self-management and care-provider communication led to an expansion of the coach's support roles. Obtaining feedback from both users and coaches played an important role in the development of both the LiveWell technology and human support. Attention to all stakeholders involved in the use of mental health technologies is essential for optimizing intervention development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere20424
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Behavior change
  • Behavioral intervention technology
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Early warning signs
  • Illness management
  • MHealth
  • Qualitative
  • Self-management
  • Smartphone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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