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The Impact of Mobile Technology-Delivered Interventions on Youth Well-being: Systematic Review and 3-Level Meta-analysis

JMIR Ment Health. 2022 Jul 29;9(7):e34254. doi: 10.2196/34254.


BACKGROUND: Rates of mental health problems among youth are high and rising, whereas treatment seeking in this population remains low. Technology-delivered interventions (TDIs) appear to be promising avenues for broadening the reach of evidence-based interventions for youth well-being. However, to date, meta-analytic reviews on youth samples have primarily been limited to computer and internet interventions, whereas meta-analytic evidence on mobile TDIs (mTDIs), largely comprising mobile apps for smartphones and tablets, have primarily focused on adult samples.

OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of mTDIs for a broad range of well-being outcomes in unselected, at-risk, and clinical samples of youth.

METHODS: The systematic review used 5 major search strategies to identify 80 studies evaluating 83 wellness- and mental health-focused mTDIs for 19,748 youth (mean age 2.93-26.25 years). We conducted a 3-level meta-analysis on the full sample and a subsample of the 38 highest-quality studies.

RESULTS: Analyses demonstrated significant benefits of mTDIs for youth both at posttest (g=0.27) and follow-up (range 1.21-43.14 weeks; g=0.26) for a variety of psychosocial outcomes, including general well-being and distress, symptoms of diverse psychological disorders, psychosocial strategies and skills, and health-related symptoms and behaviors. Effects were significantly moderated by the type of comparison group (strongest for no intervention, followed by inert placebo or information-only, and only marginal for clinical comparison) but only among the higher-quality studies. With respect to youth characteristics, neither gender nor pre-existing mental health risk level (not selected for risk, at-risk, or clinical) moderated effect sizes; however, effects increased with the age of youth in the higher-quality studies. In terms of intervention features, mTDIs in these research studies were effective regardless of whether they included various technological features (eg, tailoring, social elements, or gamification) or support features (eg, orientation, reminders, or coaching), although the use of mTDIs in a research context likely differs in important ways from their use when taken up through self-motivation, parent direction, peer suggestion, or clinician referral. Only mTDIs with a clear prescription for frequent use (ie, at least once per week) showed significant effects, although this effect was evident only in the higher-quality subsample. Moderation analyses did not detect statistically significant differences in effect sizes based on the prescribed duration of mTDI use (weeks or sessions), and reporting issues in primary studies limited the analysis of completed duration, thereby calling for improved methodology, assessment, and reporting to clarify true effects.

CONCLUSIONS: Overall, this study’s findings demonstrate that youth can experience broad and durable benefits of mTDIs, delivered in a variety of ways, and suggest directions for future research and development of mTDIs for youth, particularly in more naturalistic and ecologically valid settings.

PMID:35904845 | DOI:10.2196/34254

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