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Texts Rather than Apps for Mental Health Care

Emerging research suggests that while cell phones are an emerging channel to communicate mental health information to a provider, texting is the preferred method for communication, rather than an app.

This is the key finding of a new study led by researchers from Clemson University in collaboration with researchers from Indiana University and the Centerstone Research Institute.

The study was published in the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing.

Although the prevalence of mental illness is growing, 62 percent of those suffering do not receive treatment for their illnesses, says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Unfortunately, while research has focused on medical chronic disease management, elder care, and health promotion, there have been fewer investigations of ways that readily available technologies can be used to assist in the treatment of mental health disorders.

“Cell phone technology is in the hands of millions of Americans and early research indicates that this technology can be useful to help Americans who are suffering from some form of mental illness,” said Kelly Caine, assistant professor in Clemson’s School of Computing.

Caine and her colleagues surveyed 325 patients currently receiving treatment at community-based outpatient clinics for mental illness to determine their cell phone ownership and usage patterns.

The results showed that cell phone ownership among these mental health patients was comparable with ownership among a nationally representative, non-patient sample, with the exception that more patients than non-patients shared their mobile phones.

“Among mental health patients, we found that texting was the most popular feature used and downloading apps was the least popular,” she said. “The patients often shared phones, which makes providing private, secure messages difficult.”

Almost 80 percent of the patients surveyed used texting and many did not use mobile applications, meaning that texting may be accessible to the majority of patients and may therefore make a more suitable treatment aid.

Furthermore, participants who already were comfortable with texting also reported that they were comfortable with the concept of texting their mental health provider, implying that texting may be an appropriate feature for mobile health (mHealth) interventions.

“By utilizing a technology that is readily available and familiar to so many Americans, we see huge potential to improve treatment outcomes and provide patients who currently have only limited access to treatment additional treatment options,” said Caine.

In the paper, the researches write the cell phones and other mHealth technologies that are designed considering the ownership, usage patterns, and needs of patients have the potential to be successful treatment aids.

“When designed from a patient-centered perspective, such as understanding cell phone sharing habits, these technologies have the potential to be useful and usable to the largest number of patients,” Caine said.

Future research will investigate mobile security needs and explore the types of treatment aids that texting can offer.

Source: Clemson University/EurekAlert

Texts Rather than Apps for Mental Health Care

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Texts Rather than Apps for Mental Health Care. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 30 Jan 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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