Research Explores Technical Interventions for Mental Health

21 May 2021


Ecological momentary interventions, ( EMI’s )  or treatments that are provided to patients between sessions in real-time, have been made possible because of advances in mobile computing technology. The widespread adoption of smartphones has led to a variety of research studies exploring the feasibility of EMI’s over the past decade.  The development of mobile computing technology has enabled the delivery of psychological interventions while people go about their everyday lives. 

A scoping review of EMI’s by Ph.D. candidate at the ADAPT Centre, Andreas Balaskas, was published recently in PLOS ONE.  In this article, the author aims to describe the set of technological and interaction possibilities which have been used in the design of these interventions.

The author conducted a systematic search that identified relevant literature published between 2009 and 2020. This highlighted that interventions targeted a range of mental health problems, with diverse aims, intervention designs and evaluation approaches. The studies employed a variety of features for intervention delivery, but recent research is overwhelmingly comprised of studies based on smartphone apps (30 of 42 papers that described an intervention). Twenty-two studies employed sensors for the collection of data in order to provide just-in-time support or predict psychological states.

Speaking about the findings, research student Andreas Balaskas said: “With the shift towards smartphone apps, the vision for EMIs has begun to be realised. Recent years have seen an increased exploration of the use of sensors and machine learning, but the role of humans in the delivery of EMI is also varied. The variety of capabilities exhibited by EMIs motivates the development of a more precise vocabulary for capturing both automatic and human tailoring of these interventions.”