Investigating Popular Mental Health Mobile Application Downloads and Activity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Xiaomei Wang, Carl Markert, Farzan Sasangohar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Objective: This article analyzes the changes in downloads and activity of users of select popular mental health mobile applications (mHealth apps) during coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Background: The outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis has shown a negative impact on public mental health. Mobile health has the potential to help address the psychological needs of existing and new patients during the pandemic and beyond. Method: Downloads data of 16 widely used apps were analyzed. The quality of apps was reviewed using the Mobile Application Rating Scale (MARS) framework. Correlation analysis was conducted to investigate the relationship between app quality and app popularity. Results: Among the 16 apps, 10 were meditational in nature, 13 showed increased downloads, with 11 apps showing above 10% increase in the downloads after the pandemic started. The popular apps were satisfactory in terms of functionality and esthetics but lacked clinical grounding and evidence base. There exists a gap between app quality and app popularity. Conclusion: This study provided evidence for increased downloads of mental mHealth apps (primarily meditation apps) during the COVID-19 pandemic but revealed several gaps and opportunities to address deficiencies in evidence-based design, usability and effective assessment, and integration into current workflows. Application: The COVID-19 pandemic is a potential turning point for mHealth applications for mental health care. Whereas the evidence suggests a need for alternative delivery of care, human factors and ergonomics methods should be utilized to ensure these tools are user-centered, easy to use, evidence-based, well-integrated with professional care, and used sustainably.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)50-61
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number1
Early online dateMar 7 2021
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Mobile Health Rating Scale (MARS)
  • mental health
  • mobile apps
  • mobile health (mHealth)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Applied Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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