Efficacy of a Web-Based Guided Recommendation Service for a Curated List of Readily Available Mental Health and Well-Being Mobile Apps for Young People: Randomized Controlled Trial

Niranjan Bidargaddi, Peter Musiat, Megan Winsall, Gillian Vogl, Victoria Blake, Stephen Quinn, Simone Orlowski, Gaston Antezana, Geoffrey Schrader

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Background: Mental disorders are highly prevalent for the people who are aged between 16 and 25 years and can permanently disrupt the development of these individuals. Easily available mobile health (mHealth) apps for mobile phones have great potential for the prevention and early intervention of mental disorders in young adults, but interventions are required that can help individuals to both identify high-quality mobile apps and use them to change health and lifestyle behavior. Objectives: The study aimed to assess the efficacy of a Web-based self-guided app recommendation service ("The Toolbox") in improving the well-being of young Australians aged between 16 and 25 years. The intervention was developed in collaboration with young adults and consists of a curated list of 46 readily available health and well-being apps, assessed and rated by professionals and young people. Participants are guided by an interactive quiz and subsequently receive recommendations for particular apps to download and use based on their personal goals. Methods: The study was a waitlist, parallel-Arm, randomized controlled trial. Our primary outcome measure was change in well-being as measured by the Mental Health Continuum-Short Form (MHC-SF). We also employed ecological momentary assessments (EMAs) to track mood, energy, rest, and sleep. Participants were recruited from the general Australian population, via several Web-based and community strategies. The study was conducted through a Web-based platform consisting of a landing Web page and capabilities to administer study measures at different time points. Web-based measurements were self-Assessed at baseline and 4 weeks, and EMAs were collected repeatedly at regular weekly intervals or ad hoc when participants interacted with the study platform. Primary outcomes were analyzed using linear mixed-models and intention-To-Treat (ITT) analysis. Results: A total of 387 participants completed baseline scores and were randomized into the trial. Results demonstrated no significant effect of "The Toolbox" intervention on participant well-being at 4 weeks compared with the control group (P=.66). There were also no significant differences between the intervention and control groups at 4 weeks on any of the subscales of the MHC-SF (psychological: P=.95, social: P=.42, emotional: P=.95). Repeat engagement with the study platform resulted in a significant difference in mood, energy, rest, and sleep trajectories between intervention and control groups as measured by EMAs (P<.01). Conclusions: This was the first study to assess the effectiveness of a Web-based well-being intervention in a sample of young adults. The design of the intervention utilized expert rating of existing apps and end-user codesign approaches resulting in an app recommendation service. Our finding suggests that recommended readily available mental health and well-being apps may not lead to improvements in the well-being of a nonclinical sample of young people, but might halt a decline in mood, energy, rest, and sleep.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere141
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2017


  • Apps
  • Engagement
  • Mental health
  • Online intervention
  • Well-being
  • Young people


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