Supporting mental health and wellness is of increasing interest due to a growing recognition of the prevalence and burden of mental health issues. Mood is a central aspect of mental health, and several technologies, especially mobile apps, have helped people track and understand it. However, despite formative work on and dissemination of mood-tracking apps, it is not well understood how mood-tracking apps used in real-world contexts might benefit people and what people hope to gain from them.
To address this gap, the purpose of this study was to understand motivations for and experiences in using mood-tracking apps from people who used them in real-world contexts.
We interviewed 22 participants who had used mood-tracking apps using a semistructured interview and card sorting task. The interview focused on their experiences using a mood-tracking app. We then conducted a card sorting task using screenshots of various data entry and data review features from mood-tracking apps. We used thematic analysis to identify themes around why people use mood-tracking apps, what they found useful about them, and where people felt these apps fell short.
Users of mood-tracking apps were primarily motivated by negative life events or shifts in their own mental health that prompted them to engage in tracking and improve their situation. In general, participants felt that using a mood-tracking app facilitated self-awareness and helped them to look back on a previous emotion or mood experience to understand what was happening. Interestingly, some users reported less inclination to document their negative mood states and preferred to document their positive moods. There was a range of preferences for personalization and simplicity of tracking. Overall, users also liked features in which their previous tracked emotions and moods were visualized in figures or calendar form to understand trends. One gap in available mood-tracking apps was the lack of app-facilitated recommendations or suggestions for how to interpret their own data or improve their mood.
Although people find various features of mood-tracking apps helpful, the way people use mood-tracking apps, such as avoiding entering negative moods, tracking infrequently, or wanting support to understand or change their moods, demonstrate opportunities for improvement. Understanding why and how people are using current technologies can provide insights to guide future designs and implementations.