Can We Use Gamification in Mobile Mental Health Interventions?

Research Paper Title

Gamification as an approach to improve resilience and reduce attrition in mobile mental health interventions: A randomized controlled trial.

Background

40% of all general practitioner (GP) appointments are related to mental illness, although less than 35% of individuals have access to therapy and psychological care, indicating a pressing need for accessible and affordable therapy tools.

The ubiquity of smartphones offers a delivery platform for such tools. Previous research suggests that gamification-turning intervention content into a game format-could increase engagement with prevention and early-stage mobile interventions.

This study aimed to explore the effects of a gamified mobile mental health intervention on improvements in resilience, in comparison with active and inactive control conditions. Differences between conditions on changes in personal growth, anxiety and psychological wellbeing, as well as differences in attrition rates, were also assessed.

Methods

The eQuoo app was developed and published on all leading mobile platforms.

The app educates users about psychological concepts including emotional bids, generalisation, and reciprocity through psychoeducation, storytelling, and gamification.

In total, 358 participants completed in a 5-week, 3-armed (eQuoo, “treatment as usual” cognitive behavioural therapy journal app, no-intervention waitlist) randomized controlled trial. Relevant scales were administered to all participants on days 1, 17, and 35.

Results

Repeated-measures ANOVA revealed statistically significant increases in resilience in the test group compared with both control groups over 5 weeks.

The app also significantly increased personal growth, positive relations with others, and anxiety. With 90% adherence, eQuoo retained 21% more participants than the control or waitlist groups.

Intervention delivered via eQuoo significantly raised mental well-being and decreased self-reported anxiety while enhancing adherence in comparison with the control conditions.

Conclusions

Mobile apps using gamification can be a valuable and effective platform for well-being and mental health interventions and may enhance motivation and reduce attrition.

Future research should measure eQuoo’s effect on anxiety with a more sensitive tool and examine the impact of eQuoo on a clinical population.

Reference

Litvin, S., Saunders, R., Maier, M.A. & Luttke, S. (2020) Gamification as an approach to improve resilience and reduce attrition in mobile mental health interventions: A randomized controlled trial. PLoS One. 15(9), pp.e0237220. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0237220. eCollection 2020.

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