Text messages to reduce depressive symptoms: Do they work and what makes them effective? A systematic review

Cox, Katherine L., Allida, Sabine M. and Hackett, Maree orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-1211-9087 (2020) Text messages to reduce depressive symptoms: Do they work and what makes them effective? A systematic review. Health Education Journal, 80 (3). pp. 253-271. ISSN 0017-8969

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1177/0017896920959368


In this systematic review and meta-analysis, we aimed to quantify the effects of text messaging interventions to reduce depressive symptoms and identify variables that might influence the effectiveness of the intervention.

Electronic databases including EMBASE, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO and SCOPUS, as well as Clinicaltrials.gov and the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) were searched for randomised controlled trials that sent one or more text messages with health-related content to adults who had been identified by a healthcare provider.

Seven trials (nine comparisons), with 1,918 participants, were included in the review, and the pooled analysis revealed a borderline statistically significant reduction in depressive symptom scores between the text messaging intervention and control groups (standardised mean difference [SMD], −0.27; 95% confidence interval [CI], −0.54 to 0.00; p = .00) favouring intervention at the end. Statistically significant reductions were shown in important subgroups, for example, where the primary aim of the messages was to reduce depressive symptoms; in those using the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) or 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) questionnaires; where text message content was targeted at mental well-being, mood improvement and cognitive behavioural therapy information; and when the message frequency was ⩾2 times per week.

Text messaging has potential to reduce depressive symptoms. The results of this review should be interpreted with caution, however, due to the methodological limitations of included trials. More research is required before recommendations can be made about the routine use of text messaging for the management of depressive symptoms.

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