The authors conducted a review of the literature on e-mental health, including its applications, strengths, limitations, and evidence base.
The rapid review approach, an emerging type of knowledge synthesis, was used in response to a request for information from policy makers. MEDLINE was searched from 2005 to 2010 by using relevant terms. The search was supplemented with a general Internet search and a search focused on key authors.
A total of 115 documents were reviewed: 94% were peer-reviewed articles, and 51% described primary research. Most of the research (76%) originated in the United States, Australia, or the Netherlands. The review identified e-mental health applications addressing four areas of mental health service delivery: information provision; screening, assessment, and monitoring; intervention; and social support. Currently, applications are most frequently aimed at adults with depression or anxiety disorders. Some interventions have demonstrated effectiveness in early trials. Many believe that e-mental health has enormous potential to address the gap between the identified need for services and the limited capacity and resources to provide conventional treatment. Strengths of e-mental health initiatives noted in the literature include improved accessibility, reduced costs (although start-up and research and development costs are necessary), flexibility in terms of standardization and personalization, interactivity, and consumer engagement.
E-mental health applications are proliferating and hold promise to expand access to care. Further discussion and research are needed on how to effectively incorporate e-mental health into service systems and to apply it to diverse populations.