Terms and conditions apply: Critical issues for readability and jargon in mental health depression apps

Sagar Jilka*, Sara Simblett, Clarissa M. Odoi, Janet van Bilsen, Ania Wieczorek, Sinan Erturk, Emma Wilson, Magano Mutepua, Til Wykes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Mental health services are turning to technology to ease the resource burden, but privacy policies are hard to understand potentially compromising consent for people with mental health problems. The FDA recommends a reading grade of 8. Objective: To investigate and improve the accessibility and acceptability of mental health depression app privacy policies. Methods: A mixed methods study using quantitative and qualitative data to improve the accessibility of app privacy policies. Service users completed assessments and focus groups to provide information on ways to improve privacy policy accessibility, including identifying and rewording jargon. This was supplemented by comparisons of mental health depression apps with social media, music and finance apps using readability analyses and examining whether GDPR affected accessibility. Results: Service users provided a detailed framework for increasing accessibility that emphasised having critical information for consent. Quantitatively, most app privacy policies were too long and complicated for ensuring informed consent (mental health apps mean reading grade = 13.1 (SD = 2.44)). Their reading grades were no different to those for other services. Only 3 mental health apps had a grade 8 or less and 99% contained service user identified jargon. Mental health app privacy policies produced for GDPR weren't more readable and were longer. Conclusions: Apps specifically aimed at people with mental health difficulties are not accessible and even those that fulfilled the FDA's recommendation for reading grade contained jargon words. Developers and designers can increase accessibility by following a few rules and should, before launching, check whether the privacy policy can be understood.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100433
JournalInternet Interventions
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • Jargon
  • Mental health apps
  • Privacy policies
  • Readability
  • Service users


Dive into the research topics of 'Terms and conditions apply: Critical issues for readability and jargon in mental health depression apps'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this