Health app use among individuals with symptoms of depression and anxiety: A survey study with thematic coding

Caryn Kseniya Rubanovich, David C. Mohr, Stephen M. Schueller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Background: Researchers have largely turned to commercial app stores, randomized trials, and systematic reviews to make sense of the mHealth landscape. Few studies have approached understanding by collecting information from target end users. The end user perspective is critical as end user interest in and use of mHealth technologies will ultimately drive the efficacy of these tools. Objective: The purpose of this study was to obtain information from end users of mHealth technologies to better understand the physical and mental health apps people use and for what purposes. Methods: People with depressive or anxious symptoms (N=176) seeking entry into a trial of mental health and well-being apps for Android devices completed online questionnaires assessing depression and anxiety (Patient Health Questionnaire-9 and Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7), past and current mental health treatment-seeking behavior, overall mobile device use, and use of mobile health apps. Participants reported the physical health and mental health apps on their devices and their reasons for using them. Data were extracted from the participant self-reports and apps and app purposes were coded in order to categorize them. Results: Participants were largely white, middle-aged females from the Midwest region of the United States recruited via a health care organization and Web-based advertising (135 female, 41 male, mean age 38.64 years, age range 19-75 years.) Over three-quarters (137/176, 77.8%) of participants indicated having a health app on their device. The top 3 kinds of apps were exercise, fitness, and pedometers or heart rate monitoring apps (93/176, 52.8%); diet, food, or calorie counting apps (65/177, 36.9%); and mental health/wellness apps (46/177, 26.1%). The mean number of mobile physical and mental health apps on a participant's phone was 2.15 (SD 3.195). Of 176 participants, 107 (60.8%) specifically reported the top 5 health apps that they used and their purposes. Across the 107 participants, a total of 285 apps were reported, with 139 being unique apps. The majority of these apps were free (129/139, 92.8%). Almost two-thirds of participants (67/107, 62.6%) reported using health apps at least on a daily basis. Conclusions: Among those seeking support for their well-being via physical and mental health apps, people are using a variety of health apps. These people use health apps on a daily basis, especially free apps. The most common reason for using a health app is to track some health-related data; for mental health apps specifically, training or habit building was the most popular reason. Understanding the end user perspective is important because it allows us to build on the foundation of previously established mHealth research and may help guide future work in mHealth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere22
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mobile health
  • eHealth
  • mHealth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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