Challenges and Opportunities of Mental Health Apps
What are mental health apps?
You might already use apps to help you in many ways: to help you get from place to place, to connect and share things with friends, or to remind you to do important things like wake up and when you’re meeting up with a friend. But you may not be aware that there are thousands of apps out there that focus on mental health.
Mental health apps are mobile apps designed to help users understand and manage their mental health. Mental health apps can have a number of different goals; they may be informational, to help users learn more about mental health. They may be tools to help people stay on top of their overall wellness, or they may provide digital versions of treatments for mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more. Depending on your needs, you may use apps on their own, in your transition to face-to-face treatment, or as an add on to therapy you are already receiving.
Mental health apps are becoming widespread and readily available to anyone with internet access and a smartphone. Recent estimates suggest that anywhere between 10,000-15,000 publicly available mental health apps exist.It is important to understand some opportunities and challenges of mental health apps, to help you decide if using one is the right choice for you. Importantly, mental health apps are not a substitute for professional help, and you should always see a healthcare provider if you need help for your mental health (resources to help you find a therapist can be found here).
Apps are easy to access
Mental health apps are on average more affordable and more convenient than traditional therapies which may require health insurance, visiting in-person, and finding a therapist near you. Apps are accessible through smartphones and other mobile devices which means that users can open apps and get care almost anywhere and anytime. On top of that, lots of apps offer creative and fun ways to manage mental health, so you might have some fun when you use them!
Apps are cost effective
Many mental health apps have in-app purchases and premiums which seek to provide more sophisticated care and resources to users, but are generally less costly than seeking in-person therapy or taking in person classes.
They can be used discreetly and anonymously
Stigma can be one reason why people may not want to seek treatment for their mental health. Some people may feel more comfortable using a mental health app which can be used discreetly and anonymously. At the same time, mental health apps seek to normalize using mental health treatments through increasing accessibility and creating educational resources.
You can track your wellness in real time
Mental health apps also facilitate data tracking. Most of the time, you won’t need to worry about taking notes, or remembering how you felt a week or a month ago. Many apps track your mood and create summaries in the app every time you complete a session or activity.
There is building evidence that they work
Research studies support the use of mental health apps. In a study by Graham and colleagues (2020), 146 patients were randomized to receive an app-based treatment for depression and anxiety including coaching support or app treatment as usual. The study found that a greater proportion of the patients who received the app-based treatment achieved recovery from depression. Another study by Fitzsimmons-Craft et al. (2020) evaluated the use of a coached, digital, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) intervention compared to usual care for female undergraduate students diagnosed with eating disorders. Participants who received the digital intervention reported significantly greater reductions in Eating Disorder psychopathology, binge eating, and clinical impairment
Not everyone has access to apps
While smartphone and internet access seem to be increasingly common, not everyone has them. The average price of a smartphone is now over $500, and therefore different socioeconomic factors influence a person’s access to mental health apps. Delivering mental health services through a smartphone could mean that those without access to the smartphone technology are not able to access mental health apps. In addition, there are few apps that offer their services in languages other than English. Users who are not fluent in English may have very limited options when choosing a mental health app.
With so many apps, it can be hard to separate the good from the bad
Mental health apps are new forms of care compared to traditional therapies, and there are many developers who seek to create all sorts of different apps. With traditional medications, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to approve them before they are made available to patients. This is not the case for apps. As a result, not all apps are created with evidence based practices. With so many apps available, only a small number have research supporting their use, and it can be a challenge to separate the good from the bad.
That’s where One Mind PsyberGuide can help.
One Mind PsyberGuide’ reviews mental health apps and provides users with ratings and reviews on credibility, user experience, and transparency. Learn more about what we do here, and find an app on our App Guide.
Fitzsimmons-Craft, E.E., Taylor C.B., Graham A.K. (2020). Effectiveness of a digital cognitive behavior therapy-guided self-help intervention for eating disorders in college women: a cluster randomized clinical trial. JAMA Network Open, 3(8), e2015633. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.15633
Graham, A.K., Greene, C.J., Kwasny, M.J. (2020). Coached mobile app platform for the treatment of depression and anxiety among primary care patients: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry, 77(9), 906–914. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.1011