A smartphone-based self-management intervention for individuals with bipolar disorder (livewell): Qualitative study on user experiences of the behavior change process

Geneva K. Jonathan, Cynthia A. Dopke, Tania Michaels, Clair R. Martin, Chloe Ryan, Alyssa McBride, Pamela Babington, Evan H. Goulding*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Bipolar disorder is a severe mental illness characterized by recurrent episodes of depressed, elevated, and mixed mood states. The addition of psychotherapy to pharmacological management can decrease symptoms, lower relapse rates, and improve quality of life; however, access to psychotherapy is limited. Mental health technologies such as smartphone apps are being studied as a means to increase access to and enhance the effectiveness of adjunctive psychotherapies for bipolar disorder. Individuals with bipolar disorder find this intervention format acceptable, but our understanding of how people utilize and integrate these tools into their behavior change and maintenance processes remains limited. Objective: The objective of this study was to explore how individuals with bipolar disorder perceive and utilize a smartphone intervention for health behavior change and maintenance. Methods: Individuals with bipolar disorder were recruited via flyers placed at university-affiliated and private outpatient mental health practices to participate in a pilot study of LiveWell, a smartphone-based self-management intervention. At the end of the study, all participants completed in-depth qualitative exit interviews. The behavior change framework developed to organize the intervention design was used to deductively code behavioral targets and determinants involved in target engagement. Inductive coding was used to identify themes not captured by this framework. Results: In terms of behavioral targets, participants emphasized the importance of managing mood episode-related signs and symptoms. They also discussed the importance of maintaining regular routines, sleep duration, and medication adherence. Participants emphasized that receiving support from a coach as well as seeking and receiving assistance from family, friends, and providers were important for managing behavioral targets and staying well. In terms of determinants, participants stressed the important role of monitoring for their behavior change and maintenance efforts. Monitoring facilitated self-awareness and reflection, which was considered valuable for staying well. Some participants also felt that the intervention facilitated learning information necessary for managing bipolar disorder but others felt that the information provided was too basic. Conclusions: In addition to addressing acceptability, satisfaction, and engagement, a person-based design of mental health technologies can be used to understand how people experience the impact of these technologies on their behavior change and maintenance efforts. This understanding may then be used to guide ongoing intervention development. The participants' perceptions aligned with the intervention's primary behavioral targets and use of a monitoring tool as a core intervention feature. Participant feedback further indicates that developing additional content and tools to address building and engaging social support may be an important avenue for improving LiveWell. A comprehensive behavior change framework to understand participant perceptions of their behavior change and maintenance efforts may help facilitate ongoing intervention development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere32306
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Behavior
  • Behavior change
  • Behavioral intervention technology
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Early warning signs
  • Illness management
  • Intervention
  • MHealth
  • Management
  • Perception
  • Qualitative
  • Self-management
  • Smartphone
  • User experience
  • Utilization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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