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Publication - Dr Katarzyna Stawarz

    Use of Smartphone Apps, Social Media, and Web-Based Resources to Support Mental Health and Well-Being

    Online Survey

    Citation

    Stawarz, K, Preist, C & Coyle, D, 2019, ‘Use of Smartphone Apps, Social Media, and Web-Based Resources to Support Mental Health and Well-Being: Online Survey’. JMIR Mental Health, vol 6.

    Abstract

    BACKGROUND: Technology can play an important role in supporting mental health. Many studies have explored the effectiveness, acceptability, or context of use of different types of mental health technologies. However, existing research has tended to investigate single types of technology at a time rather than exploring a wider ecosystem that people may use. This narrow focus can limit our understanding of how we could best design mental health technologies.

    OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to investigate which technologies (smartphone apps, discussion forums and social media, and websites and Web-based programs) people use to support their mental health and why, whether they combine and use more than one technology, what purpose each technology serves, and which features people find the most valuable.

    METHODS: We conducted an online survey to gather responses from members of the public who use technology to support their mental health and well-being. The survey was advertised on social media and via posters at a university. It explored usage patterns, frequently used features, and engagement with technology. To gain deeper insights into users' preferences, we also thematically analyzed open-ended comments about each technology type and suggestions for improvements provided by the respondents.

    RESULTS: In total, 81 eligible participants completed the survey. Smartphone apps were the most commonly used technology, with 78% of the participants (63/81) using them, either alone (40%) or in combination with other technologies (38%). Each type of technology was used for specific purposes: apps provided guided activities, relaxation, and enabled tracking; social media and discussion forums allowed participants to learn from the experiences of others and use that knowledge to understand their own situation; and Web-based programs and websites helped to find out how to deal on a day-to-day basis with stress and anxiety. The analysis of open-ended responses showed that although many people valued technology and felt it could support targeted activities, it was not seen as a substitute for traditional face-to-face therapy. Participants wanted technology to be more sophisticated and nuanced, supporting personalized and actionable recommendations. There was evidence that participants mistrusted technology, irrespective of the type, and had broader concerns regarding the impact of overuse of technology.

    CONCLUSIONS: People use different types of technology to support their mental health. Each can serve a specific purpose. Although apps are the most widely used technology, mixing and matching different types of technology is also common. Technology should not be seen as a replacement for traditional psychotherapy, rather it offers new opportunities to support mental health as part of an overall ecosystem. People want technology to be more nuanced and personalized to help them plan informed actions. Future interventions should explore the use of multiple technologies and their combined effects on mental health support.

    Full details in the University publications repository