Efficacy of the Digital Therapeutic Mobile App BioBase to Reduce Stress and Improve Mental Well-Being Among University Students: Randomized Controlled Trial.
Ponzo S., Morelli D., Kawadler JM., Hemmings NR., Bird G., Plans D.
BACKGROUND: University students in the United Kingdom are experiencing increasing levels of anxiety. A program designed to increase awareness of one's present levels of well-being and suggest personalized health behaviors may reduce anxiety and improve mental well-being in students. The efficacy of a digital version of such a program, providing biofeedback and therapeutic content based on personalized well-being metrics, is reported here. OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to test the efficacy and sustained effects of using a mobile app (BioBase) and paired wearable device (BioBeam), compared with a waitlist control group, on anxiety and well-being in university students with elevated levels of anxiety and stress. METHODS: The study employed a randomized, waitlist-controlled trial with assessments at baseline, 2 weeks, postintervention (4 weeks), and follow-up (6 weeks). Participants were eligible if they were current full-time undergraduate students and (1) at least 18 years of age, (2) scored >14 points on the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale-21 items (DASS-21) stress subscale or >7 points on the DASS-21 anxiety subscale, (3) owned an iOS mobile phone, (4) did not have any previous psychiatric or neurological conditions, (6) were not pregnant at the time of testing, and (7) were able to read and understand English. Participants were encouraged to use BioBase daily and complete at least one course of therapeutic content. A P value ≤.05 was considered statistically significant. RESULTS: We found that a 4-week intervention with the BioBase program significantly reduced anxiety and increased perceived well-being, with sustained effects at a 2-week follow-up. Furthermore, a significant reduction in depression levels was found following the 4-week usage of BioBase. CONCLUSIONS: This study shows the efficacy of a biofeedback digital intervention in reducing self-reported anxiety and increasing perceived well-being in UK university students. Results suggest that digital mental health interventions could constitute a novel approach to treat stress and anxiety in students, which could be combined or integrated with existing therapeutic pathways. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Open Science Framework (OSF.io) 2zd45; https://osf.io/2zd45/.