The state of mental digi-therapeutics: A systematic assessment of depression and anxiety apps available for Arabic speakers

Dari Alhuwail, Rama Albaj, Fatma Ahmad, Khawlah Aldakheel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Background: Mental disorders are a major public health problem leading to premature mortality, homelessness, addiction problems, poor physical health, and suicide. The prevalence of mental disorders in Arab countries, is high. The proliferation and ubiquity of smartphones and their apps in the Arab world may be the long-awaited for digital therapeutic for mental health disorders. However, the evidence about the availability and characteristics of mental health apps available to Arabic speakers remains poor. Objective: To conduct a systematic assessment of the features of depression and anxiety mobile apps available for Arabic speakers. Methods: A critical review of all the currently available depression and anxiety apps, available free of charge to Arabic speakers. The apps are evaluated using the Mobile App Rating Scale (MARS). Further, a categorization of apps’ main functions, inspired by the mhGAP guidelines, is developed to classify the apps based on their main functions. Results: A total of 23 apps are identified with far more apps available on the Google Play Store (n = 21) versus only two apps on the iOS App Store. The majority of the apps (n = 16) provide general information about either anxiety, depression, or both. Six apps are of spiritual nature mainly referring to the Islamic faith and the Holy Quran, with one app referring to the Christian faith. Another five apps provide advice on alternative treatments, mainly concerning herbal medicine recipes. Only two apps provided utilities for users, specifically about medication reminders. Conclusions: Mental health digi-threaputics have huge potentials to transform mental health care delivery. However, more empirical studies are needed to assure their quality and efficacy. The results of this study clearly highlight the current gaps to address the needs of Arabic speakers; only 23 apps were identified in this study, mostly with low app quality scores. There is a need to involve expert healthcare professionals in the development of mental health apps and for healthcare providers to empower patients through discussing apps that are useful and discern them from those that can potentially cause harm.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104056
JournalInternational Journal of Medical Informatics
Volume135
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020

Keywords

  • Anxiety
  • Applications
  • Consumer health informatics
  • Depression
  • Mobile
  • Smartphone
  • Technology

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