Young people do not trust smartphone apps for mental health support

Young people may not get the mental health support they need due to a lack of trust in smartphone apps that provide such services, a study suggests.

Questions about the effectiveness of apps or online resources in managing mental health also keep young people from engaging with them, experts say.

The researchers say that if concerns about trust and usefulness could be addressed, young people are more likely to use a digital mental health resource to help manage issues such as stress, anxiety and moodiness.

Around one in five people aged 17 to 24 struggle with their mental health, experts say.

Digital mental health interventions are increasingly presented as a solution, as they are convenient, accessible and, in many cases, free to use.

Available services include mindfulness and meditation apps, screening apps, which aim to determine your mood through an online questionnaire, and treatment apps that offer online therapy. Online tutorials or courses to help people manage their mental wellbeing are also widely available.

However, the adoption of these tools is low among young people. The University of Edinburgh study is the first to assess what motivates them to engage with these resources,

The researchers questioned 248 young people between the ages of 17 and 25 and used statistical models to assess their attitudes toward technologies, what they consider before using them, and their prior engagement.

They found that the participants were relatively neutral about the idea of ​​digital mental health interventions.

If they perceived the technology as reliable and useful, the researchers found that there was a small to moderate positive association with greater intentions to use a resource.

Perceived ease of use and mental health need were not found to make a noticeable difference in young people’s intentions to use a resource.

Overall, the researchers found only moderate levels of acceptance of mental health technologies based on group experiences and perceptions, which they say may represent a barrier to service acceptance among young people.

The researchers hope the findings will help shape the development of technologies to ensure they maximize the potential of digital tools to address youth mental health challenges.

Digital interventions only present a viable solution for young people if those who need them trust them and find them useful. These findings suggest that there should be a focus on developing credible digital health interventions with evidence on utility and effectiveness to improve uptake among young people.”

Dr Vilas Sawrikar, University of Edinburgh School of Health and Social Sciences

The study is published in Health Policy and Technology. An open access version of the document is available here:

An expert from JISC, a not-for-profit organization that provides technology support to UK higher and higher education and research, contributed to the study.

Ms. Kellie Mote, Assistive Technology Specialist at JISC, said: “Service designers and developers of digital intervention applications need to provide quality evidence and real use case examples. Peace of mind about security and management “The data management must be transparent. Just as a reputable physician would not recommend a drug or talk therapy that had a thin evidence base, we need to apply a similar level of rigor to digital interventions.”


Magazine reference:

Sawrikar, V & Mote, K., (2022) Acceptance and trust in technology: Overlooked considerations in young people’s use of digital mental health interventions. Health Policy and Technology.

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