Mobile Mindfulness Intervention on an Acute Psychiatric Unit: Feasibility and Acceptability Study [2017]

Background: Aggression and violence on acute psychiatric inpatient units is extensive and leads to negative sequelae for staff and patients. With increasingly acute inpatient milieus due to shorter lengths of stay, inpatient staff is limited in training and time to be able to provide treatments. Mobile technology provides a new platform for offering treatment on such units, but it has not been tested for feasibility or usability in this particular setting.

Objective: The aim of this study was to examine the feasibility, usability, and acceptability of a brief mindfulness meditation mobile phone app intended to reduce anger and aggression in acute psychiatric inpatients with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder, and a history of violence.

Methods: Participants were recruited between November 1, 2015 and June 1, 2016. A total of 13 inpatients at an acute care state hospital carried mobile phones for 1 week and were asked to try a commercially available mindfulness app called Headspace. The participants completed a usability questionnaire and engaged in a qualitative interview upon completion of the 7 days. In addition, measures of mindfulness, state and trait anger, and cognitive ability were administered before and after the intervention.

Results: Of the 13 enrolled participants, 10 used the app for the 7 days of the study and completed all measures. Two additional participants used the app for fewer than 7 days and completed all measures. All participants found the app to be engaging and easy to use. Most (10/12, 83%) felt comfortable using Headspace and 83% (10/12) would recommend it to others. All participants made some effort to try the app, with 6 participants (6/12, 50%) completing the first 10 10-minute “foundation” guided meditations.

Conclusions: This is the first known study of the use of a commercially available app as an intervention on acute psychiatric inpatient units. Acutely ill psychiatric inpatients at a state hospital found the Headspace app easy to use, were able to complete a series of meditations, and felt the app helped with anxiety, sleep, and boredom on the unit. There were no instances of an increase in psychotic symptoms reported and there were no episodes of aggression or violence noted in the record.

Lisa A Mistler, MS, MSc, MD ; Dror Ben-Zeev, PhD ; Elizabeth Carpenter-Song, PhD ; Mary F Brunette, MD ; Matthew J Friedman, MD, PhD
JMIR Mental Health 2017;4(3)