Standalone smartphone apps for mental health—a systematic review and meta-analysis

Kiona K. Weisel*, Lukas M. Fuhrmann, Matthias Berking, Harald Baumeister, Pim Cuijpers, David D. Ebert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


While smartphone usage is ubiquitous, and the app market for smartphone apps targeted at mental health is growing rapidly, the evidence of standalone apps for treating mental health symptoms is still unclear. This meta-analysis investigated the efficacy of standalone smartphone apps for mental health. A comprehensive literature search was conducted in February 2018 on randomized controlled trials investigating the effects of standalone apps for mental health in adults with heightened symptom severity, compared to a control group. A random-effects model was employed. When insufficient comparisons were available, data was presented in a narrative synthesis. Outcomes included assessments of mental health disorder symptom severity specifically targeted at by the app. In total, 5945 records were identified and 165 full-text articles were screened for inclusion by two independent researchers. Nineteen trials with 3681 participants were included in the analysis: depression (k = 6), anxiety (k = 4), substance use (k = 5), self-injurious thoughts and behaviors (k = 4), PTSD (k = 2), and sleep problems (k = 2). Effects on depression (Hedges’ g = 0.33, 95%CI 0.10–0.57, P = 0.005, NNT = 5.43, I2 = 59%) and on smoking behavior (g = 0.39, 95%CI 0.21–0.57, NNT = 4.59, P ≤ 0.001, I2 = 0%) were significant. No significant pooled effects were found for anxiety, suicidal ideation, self-injury, or alcohol use (g = −0.14 to 0.18). Effect sizes for single trials ranged from g = −0.05 to 0.14 for PTSD and g = 0.72 to 0.84 for insomnia. Although some trials showed potential of apps targeting mental health symptoms, using smartphone apps as standalone psychological interventions cannot be recommended based on the current level of evidence.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
Journalnpj Digital Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2019


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