Preliminary effectiveness of a smartphone app to reduce depressive symptoms in the workplace: feasibility and acceptability study

Publication Type:
Journal Article
JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 2018, 6 (12)
Issue Date:
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© Mark Deady, David Johnston, David Milne, Nick Glozier, Dorian Peters, Rafael Calvo, Samuel Harvey. Background: The workplace represents a unique setting for mental health interventions. Due to range of job-related factors, employees in male-dominated industries are at an elevated risk. However, these at-risk groups are often overlooked. HeadGear is a smartphone app–based intervention designed to reduce depressive symptoms and increase well-being in these populations. Objective: This paper presents the development and pilot testing of the app’s usability, acceptability, feasibility, and preliminary effectiveness. Methods: The development process took place from January 2016 to August 2017. Participants for prototype testing (n=21; stage 1) were recruited from industry partner organizations to assess acceptability and utility. A 5-week effectiveness and feasibility pilot study (n=84; stage 2) was then undertaken, utilizing social media recruitment. Demographic data, acceptability and utility questionnaires, depression (Patient Health Questionnaire-9), and other mental health measures were collected. Results: The majority of respondents felt HeadGear was easy to use (92%), easily understood (92%), were satisfied with the app (67%), and would recommend it to a friend (75%; stage 1). Stage 2 found that compared with baseline, depression and anxiety symptoms were significantly lower at follow-up (t30=2.53; P=.02 and t30=2.18; P=.04, respectively), days of sick leave in past month (t28=2.38; P=.02), and higher self-reported job performance (t28=−2.09; P=.046; stage 2). Over 90% of respondents claimed it helped improve their mental fitness, and user feedback was again positive. Attrition was high across the stages. Conclusions: Overall, HeadGear was well received, and preliminary findings indicate it may provide an innovative new platform for improving mental health outcomes. Unfortunately, attrition was a significant issue, and findings should be interpreted with caution. The next stage of evaluation will be a randomized controlled trial. If found to be efficacious, the app has the potential to reduce disease burden and improve health in this at-risk group.
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