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Mobile Phone Apps for People with Serious Mental Illness

Mobile phone-based health interventions, or mHealth apps, are innovative health delivery tools available via an individual’s smart phone. Such mobile health applications have been shown to be effective for a wide variety of health conditions and may also be beneficial to individuals with serious mental illness, according to new research published this month in Psychiatric Services.


FOCUS is a smartphone health intervention for people with serious mental illness and involves a mobile phone application, physician dashboard and a mHealth support specialist. The mobile application utilizes pre-programmed daily self-assessment prompts and other functions that can be accessed any time of day to help people cope with auditory hallucinations, manage their moods, maintain proper sleep hygiene, function socially and adhere to their medical regimens. The clinical and technical aspects of the program are further supported by weekly calls from mHealth specialists.

A randomized control trial compared the mHealth intervention FOCUS to a mental health clinic-based group intervention for people with serious mental illness. The clinical trial included 163 participants with long-term serious mental illness, the majority of whom identified as African-American or another racial minority. Almost half of the study participants suffered from schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, whereas 28% had bipolar disorder and 23% had a major depressive disorder.

The results of the trial indicate that mHealth is more effective in getting people to start the treatment program, suggesting it is more accessible and easier start than a clinic-based program. FOCUS participants were also more likely to still be in treatment after eight weeks compared to the clinic-based program, according to the results.

Both groups had similar results in clinical outcomes, including improving depression scores and reducing psychopathology. In addition, both groups had significant improvements in recovery at the end of treatment and after six months of follow-up.

The authors of the study suggest that these findings indicate mHealth can play an important role in mental health care delivery, creating new opportunities to engage patients into treatment with resources and interaction with a support specialist. These tools can increase and lengthen the time that people with serious mental illness remain in periods of remission by adhering to treatment and promoting supports.

Elizabeth Sinclair

Director of Research

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