Staff Perspective: Resources to Discover Resilience-building Apps for Military-Connected Clients

Staff Perspective: Resources to Discover Resilience-building Apps for Military-Connected Clients

Dr. Jenny Phillips

The benefits of using mobile applications to support behavioral health interventions is well-known to most practitioners and their clients, particularly given the ubiquity of mobile apps nowadays. Applications to assist in the process of resilience-building are particularly useful for those working with service members, veterans, and their family members. The Department of Defense (Defense Health Agency), Military OneSource, and the National Center for PTSD are just a few of the organizations that have developed and/or supported mobile applications to facilitate resilience in military-connected populations. Many of these apps have been studied, formally or informally, and some even have published articles detailing their effectiveness, functionality, etc. However, a lack of centralized information has made it difficult for providers to compare options and make informed decisions about which apps would be most beneficial to their practice and their clients.

Recognizing the need for more comprehensive resources on available apps, several research groups have recently published literature reviews that may make this task a bit easier for interested providers. Three of the more recent reviews are summarized and linked below.

Tam-Seto, Wood, Linden, & Stuart, 2018 – Tam-Seto and colleagues performed a scoping review of the literature (2008-2018) on mental health mobile apps for the military community. This review was less interested in identifying or comparing individual apps and more focused on determining what information about their use was available in the literature for providers. Thirty-three (33) articles were included in the final review and contributed to the identification of three themes within the literature: (1) a diverse range of purposes across the identified mobile apps, (II) reports of evidence supporting the use of mobile apps, and (III) mobile apps play a role as a part of a greater treatment program. The authors recommend the undertaking of meta-analyses of the literature on app effectiveness. As we are all aware, technology moves quickly and many of the apps referenced by articles in this review, particularly those from early in the included timeframe, have likely been updated, phased out, or replaced with new options or versions.

O’Toole & Brown, 2020 – A more recent review of the literature focused more specifically on apps to support resiliency in military populations. Using more stringent criteria (i.e., a price of < $5.00, specificity to military or related populations, readily available), the authors narrowed an original pool of 82 applications to a final set of 12 for full review. The included apps were then assessed using a reliable and multi-dimensional tool, the Mobile Application Rating Scale (MARS), that assessed app quality across four dimensions, (1) engagement, (2) functionality, (3) aesthetics, and (4) information. The review provides detailed information for all 12 apps for each of the dimensions, as well as links to download the apps from accessible online stores (i.e., Google Play, iTunes). The authors concluded that the vast majority of the apps were high-quality and based on evidence-supported content and strategies for mental health resiliency interventions.

Voth et al., 2022 – The most recently published review is another scoping literature review for resilience-building mobile applications that also included an evaluation of the identified apps. This review used a different set of inclusion criteria: apps were required to be free for download, easily accessible online, updated within the past three years, intended for use by military populations, and available in English and in Canada. A total of 22 apps met the authors’ criteria and were then evaluated using the Alberta Rating Index for Apps (ARIA), which assesses both general aspects of the app (i.e., purpose, trustworthiness, privacy, and affordability) and user ratings (i.e., ease of use, functionality, usefulness, satisfaction). The article links PDF tables of the full results for all apps reviewed and highlights several of the highest scoring apps across the ARIA scales, including R2MR, PTSD Coach, and AIMS for Anger Management.

Full-text versions for each article are available at the links above. Information from review articles like these, particularly those that use established methods or tools to assess and compare mobile apps, can save providers time and cut down on trial an error when selecting apps to use with their clients.

The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.

Jenny Phillips, Ph.D., is the Assistant Director of Evaluation for the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD.

Tam-Seto, L., Wood, V. M., Linden, B., & Stuart, H. (2018). A scoping review of mental health mobile apps for use by the military community. Mhealth, 4.

O’Toole, K., & Brown, C. A. (2021). Evaluating the quality of resilience apps for military members and public safety personnel. Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health, 7(1), 87-101.

Voth, M., Chisholm, S., Sollid, H., Jones, C., Smith-MacDonald, L., & Brémault-Phillips, S. (2022). Efficacy, effectiveness, and quality of resilience-building mobile health apps for military, veteran, and public safety personnel populations: scoping literature review and app evaluation. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 10(1), e26453.