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Jan 29, 2015 11:34 PM EST

Texting May Be More Suitable Than Apps In Treatment Of Mental Illness

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Texting may be a more suitable treatment aid for those with mental illness than mobile applications, according to a recent study.

Researchers at Clemson University, Indiana University and the Centerstone Research Institute found that cell phone ownership among mental health patients was comparable with ownership among a nationally representative, non-patient sample, with the exception that more patients than non-patients shared their mobile phones.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the prevalence of mental illness is growing and 62 percent of those suffering do not receive treatment for their illnesses.

"Cell phone technology is in the hands of millions of Americans and early research indicates that this technology can be useful to help Americans who are suffering from some form of mental illness," Kelly Caine, researcher and assistant professor in Clemson's School of Computing, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers surveyed 325 patients currently receiving treatment at community-based outpatient clinics for mental illness to determine their cell phone ownership and usage patterns.

"Among mental health patients, we found that texting was the most popular feature used and downloading apps was the least popular," Caine said. "The patients often shared phones, which makes providing private, secure messages difficult."

Almost 80 percent of the patients surveyed used texting and many did not use mobile applications, meaning that texting may be accessible to the majority of patients and may therefore make a more suitable treatment aid.

"By utilizing a technology that is readily available and familiar to so many Americans, we see huge potential to improve treatment outcomes and provide patients who currently have only limited access to treatment additional treatment options," Caine added.

Cell phones and other mHealth technologies that are designed considering the ownership, usage patterns and needs of patients have the potential to be successful treatment aids.

"When designed from a patient-centered perspective, such as understanding cell phone sharing habits, these technologies have the potential to be useful and usable to the largest number of patients," Caine said.

Future research will investigate mobile security needs and explore the types of treatment aids that texting can offer.

The findings are detailed in the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing.

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