Publication Date



JMIR Formative Research


BACKGROUND: Depression during pregnancy is increasingly recognized as a worldwide public health problem. If untreated, there can be detrimental outcomes for the mother and child. Anxiety is also often comorbid with depression. Although effective treatments exist, most women do not receive treatment. Technology is a mechanism to increase access to and engagement in mental health services.

OBJECTIVE: The Guardians is a mobile app, grounded in behavioral activation principles, which seeks to leverage mobile game mechanics and in-game rewards to encourage user engagement. This study seeks to assess app satisfaction and engagement and to explore changes in clinical symptoms of depression and anxiety among a sample of pregnant women with elevated depressive symptoms.

METHODS: This multimethod pilot test consisted of a single-arm, proof-of-concept trial to examine the feasibility and acceptability of The Guardians among a pregnant sample with depression (N=18). Participation included two web-based study visits: (1) a baseline assessment to collect demographic and obstetric information and to assess clinical symptoms and (2) an exit interview to administer follow-up measures and explore user experience. Participants completed biweekly questionnaires (ie, Patient Health Questionnaire-9 and Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7) during the trial to assess depression and anxiety symptom severity. App satisfaction was measured using 2 self-report scales (ie, Mobile Application Rating Scale and Player Experience of Needs Satisfaction scale). Engagement with The Guardians was captured using game interaction metric data. We used backward-eliminated mixed effects longitudinal models to examine the effects of app engagement and satisfaction and length of time in the study on symptoms of depression and anxiety. Content analysis was conducted on qualitative data from exit interviews.

RESULTS: The 15-day and 30-day overall app retention rates were 26.6% and 15.1%, respectively. Mixed effects models found significant negative main effects of week in study (β=-.35; t

CONCLUSIONS: Preliminary results from this multimethod study of The Guardians indicate feasibility and acceptability among pregnant women with depression. Retention and engagement levels were more than double those of previous public mental health apps, and use of the app was associated with significant decrease in depressive symptom scores over the 10-week trial. The Guardians shows promise as an effective and scalable digital intervention to support women experiencing depression.



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