Leveraging Implementation Science to Understand Factors Influencing Sustained Use of Mental Health Apps: a Narrative Review

Samantha L. Connolly, Timothy P. Hogan, Stephanie L. Shimada, Christopher J. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Mental health (MH) smartphone applications (apps), which can aid in self-management of conditions such as depression and anxiety, have demonstrated dramatic growth over the past decade. However, their effectiveness and potential for sustained use remain uncertain. This narrative review leverages implementation science theory to explore factors influencing MH app uptake. The review is guided by the integrated Promoting Action on Research Implementation in Health Services (i-PARIHS) framework and discusses the role of the innovation, its recipients, context, and facilitation in influencing successful implementation of MH apps. The review highlights critical literature published between 2015 and 2020 with a focus on depression and anxiety apps. Sources were identified via PubMed, Google Scholar, and Twitter using a range of keywords pertaining to MH apps. Findings suggest that for apps to be successful, they must be advantageous over alternative tools, relatively easy to navigate, and aligned with users’ needs, skills, and resources. Significantly more attention must be paid to the complex contexts in which MH app implementation is occurring in order to refine facilitation strategies. The evidence base is still uncertain regarding the effectiveness and usability of MH apps, and much can be learned from the apps we use daily; namely, simpler is better and plans to integrate full behavioral treatments into smartphone form may be misguided. Non-traditional funding mechanisms that are nimble, responsive, and encouraging of industry partnerships will be necessary to move the course of MH app development in the right direction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)184-196
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Technology in Behavioral Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • App
  • Implementation science
  • Mental health
  • Smartphone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Science Applications


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