Mental health monitoring apps for depression and anxiety in children and young people: a scoping review and critical ecological analysis

Jessy E. Williams*, Jessica Pykett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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There is considerable concern about increasing rates of anxiety and depression among children and young people (CYP). Mental health technologies, such as smartphone applications, are proposed as a potential solution. However, the effectiveness of mental health mobile applications for managing, moderating and treating anxiety and depression in CYP is uncertain. The purpose of this scoping review is to outline the extent of the clinical evidence base of mental health apps with monitoring functions for depression and anxiety in CYP, to categorise the range of monitoring features, to understand their various purposes, and to analyse these ‘technical mechanisms’ in apps from the perspective of critical ecological analysis. It provides a novel conceptual framework for researching how CYP may use and critically engage with mental health apps. We searched Ovid MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and Scopus databases, and 39 studies met the inclusion criteria. The analysis focuses attention on the ecological (mental, social and environmental) dimensions of life, health and emotional experience and the purposes of mental health monitoring apps. We evaluate the way that technical mechanisms, such as metrics are used in apps, examine their effects on responsibility for managing and treating distress and consider the rationalities that guide their development. The paper concludes that examination of the bioethics and neuroethics of these technologies is necessary and urgent. This requires paying closer attention to the social practices of technology-enabled self-monitoring, and the ways in which these frame mental health as a form of individualised emotional regulation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114802
Number of pages15
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date12 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research
Council (ERSC) [grant number: ES/P000711/1]. Thank you to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. The search strings for OVID Medline and PsycINFO can be made available upon request.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors


  • Adolescent mental health
  • Bioethics
  • Digital ecologies
  • Emotional governance
  • mHealth
  • Mobile apps
  • Posthumanism
  • Self-monitoring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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