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Comparing Professional and Consumer Ratings of Mental Health Apps: Mixed Methods Study

Published Web Location Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license


As the number of mental health apps has grown, increasing efforts have been focused on establishing quality tailored reviews. These reviews prioritize clinician and academic views rather than the views of those who use them, particularly those with lived experiences of mental health problems. Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased reliance on web-based and mobile mental health support, understanding the views of those with mental health conditions is of increasing importance.


This study aimed to understand the opinions of people with mental health problems on mental health apps and how they differ from established ratings by professionals.


A mixed methods study was conducted using a web-based survey administered between December 2020 and April 2021, assessing 11 mental health apps. We recruited individuals who had experienced mental health problems to download and use 3 apps for 3 days and complete a survey. The survey consisted of the One Mind PsyberGuide Consumer Review Questionnaire and 2 items from the Mobile App Rating Scale (star and recommendation ratings from 1 to 5). The consumer review questionnaire contained a series of open-ended questions, which were thematically analyzed and using a predefined protocol, converted into binary (positive or negative) ratings, and compared with app ratings by professionals and star ratings from app stores.


We found low agreement between the participants' and professionals' ratings. More than half of the app ratings showed disagreement between participants and professionals (198/372, 53.2%). Compared with participants, professionals gave the apps higher star ratings (3.58 vs 4.56) and were more likely to recommend the apps to others (3.44 vs 4.39). Participants' star ratings were weakly positively correlated with app store ratings (r=0.32, P=.01). Thematic analysis found 11 themes, including issues of user experience, ease of use and interactivity, privacy concerns, customization, and integration with daily life. Participants particularly valued certain aspects of mental health apps, which appear to be overlooked by professional reviewers. These included functions such as the ability to track and measure mental health and providing general mental health education. The cost of apps was among the most important factors for participants. Although this is already considered by professionals, this information is not always easily accessible.


As reviews on app stores and by professionals differ from those by people with lived experiences of mental health problems, these alone are not sufficient to provide people with mental health problems with the information they desire when choosing a mental health app. App rating measures must include the perspectives of mental health service users to ensure ratings represent their priorities. Additional work should be done to incorporate the features most important to mental health service users into mental health apps.

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