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Cell phone ownership and use among mental health outpatients in the USA


Cell phone technology is in the hands of millions of Americans, and early research indicates that this technology can be useful to help Americans who are suffering from some form of mental illness. Like with the design of any technology from a human-centered perspective, we aim to determine how to best utilize technology so that it is both easy to use and works for its intended purpose. To accomplish this, we surveyed 325 patients currently receiving treatment at community-based outpatient clinics for mental illness to determine their cell phone ownership and usage patterns. Our results showed that cell phone ownership among these mental health patients was comparable with ownership among a nationally representative sample, with the exception that more patients than non-patients shared their mobile phones. Among mental health patients, we found that texting was the most popular feature used and downloading apps was the least popular. Based on these results, we concluded that texting may be a feasible form of treatment aid for those with mental illness and may be useful as a supplementary treatment for those with low income or little to no access to treatment. Further research should investigate privacy measures for using mobile technology as a treatment aid, especially for those who share a phone, and explore the types of mHealth treatment aids that could be the most effective.

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The authors wish to thank Jason Luellen, Ph.D. at the Centerstone Research Institute, and Rebecca Selove, Ph.D. at Tennessee State University, for their help with survey design and distribution, as well as data collection and analysis. We also thank Subina Saini at Clemson University for help with statistical weighting and data analysis. This research was supported by Lilly Endowment, Inc., through their generous funding of CLEAR Health Information.

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Correspondence to Brianne Campbell.



Cell phone use survey

As a way for us to provide better and more convenient service, we would like to learn about your use of cell phones. You are invited to respond to the following survey. Any data you provide will remain anonymous. The survey will take less than 10 min and your participation is completely voluntary. Please complete this survey only one time. If you have questions about this survey, please contact Rebecca Selove, Ph.D. at 615-463-6248 or

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Campbell, B., Caine, K., Connelly, K. et al. Cell phone ownership and use among mental health outpatients in the USA. Pers Ubiquit Comput 19, 367–378 (2015).

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  • Cell phones
  • Mental illness
  • Mobile technology
  • Health technology
  • mHealth