Have you ever thought about how far we have come as a digitally-dependent world? Technologies are solidifying their power when it comes to education, finance, entertainment, consulting, and even healthcare. Healthcare app development is on the rise leaving the traditional approach to medical services in the past. Apps for monitoring chronic conditions, reminder apps, medical education software, and digital tools for preventive purposes were market pioneers and remain in demand.
But since their first appearance, the top list has been refreshed and now includes mental health apps.
Therapy applications started booming years before the pandemic. But in 2020, with the stresses of COVID-19, mental health applications received a new way of interest. Therapists and their patients are now moving their sessions to video feeling safer and more comfortable doing this way.
The number of mobile applications is rising to the occasion. But the question is if this remote therapy helps people suffering from mental health issues. By writing this blog post, we intend to lay cards on the table answering the question above and a few more.
Definition as the starting point
Looking for a single clear-cut definition of a mental health app? It would be complicated to provide one since mental health apps address various health concerns (from mindfulness to anxiety or depression) and can be classified purpose-wise:
- General mental health apps
- Mental disorder apps
- Education and assessment apps
- Treatment adherence apps
- Self-improvement apps
- Peer connection apps
After developing a common approach to the definition of mental health apps, we’d characterize them as via telephone accessible tools that focus on the aspects of well-being or mental health issues and offer either self-help instruments or quick access to licensed professionals.
How mental health apps improve patients’ emotional wellness
- They provide access to up-to-date information
To adequately deal with any mental health condition, it’s crucial to have 24/7 access to accurate medical information. And this access is crucial both for mental healthcare providers and their patients. By means of the precise data, doctors craft an effective, individualized treatment plan, while patients define where they stand in the treatment cycle.
- They enhance patient-provider communication
Telemedicine apps offer round-the-clock communication services. This feature is beneficial for patients with a fixed number of scheduled therapy sessions who can’t connect directly due to any emergency or long distance.
- They encourage self-monitoring and health-promotion
Depending on in-built features, mental health apps can help patients track their mood and anxiety levels. They can teach relaxation techniques or serve as medication reminders.
What are non-health-related benefits of mHealth apps?
- They are affordable
Online therapy in between traditional treatment sessions is affordable. General and educational mental health apps are mostly free while doctor-on-demand apps cost less than traditional treatment. In some US states, insurance providers are required to cover online therapy.
- They are accessible 24/7
These apps literally offer mental health assistance round the clock. By reducing the time patients are left without professional assistance, they are a safety net at arm’s length.
- They are versatile
There is a mental health app for everything, from helping you practicing relaxation techniques to coping with bipolar disorder. In addition to the versatility in types, there’s versatility in features. With some apps, users can only track sleep, mood, and mental health-related symptoms, while others allow users to receive clinically-supported guidance, import data from other health apps, or connect with support groups.
Mental health apps amidst the pandemic
COVID-19 has become one of the major reasons for stress rise in 2020. People are experiencing financial stress and loneliness. They grieve lost loved ones and are anxious about getting sick. Stress during COVID-19 can trigger one of the following conditions:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Disorders in eating patterns
- Increased use of alcohol or tobacco
- Difficulty concentrating
- Worsening of mental health conditions
- Worsening of chronic health conditions
Traditional mental health services have become too stretched during the pandemic. Luckily, the increased adoption of mental health apps and teletherapy has improved access to mental health services.
The top popular choices of mental health mobile applications during the pandemic are:
- iMoodJournal for users to record their moods, activity levels, and intake of prescribed medication. Patients and physicians can follow all these patterns through special summary charts, to know how to resolve the situations.
- Worry Watch for users with OCD to learn about their anxiety triggers and mark mood trends to be able to use this information during their treatment. This mobile application is regarded as a diary for mood analysis.
- Breathe2Relax is for PTSD users and is an immediate solution that teaches them to overcome stressful situations through breathing techniques.
- UCSF PRIME is a mobile application that helps people with schizophrenia set and track their “challenge goals” to accomplish what they want and become better people.
- Lifesum is for those with eating disorders at different stages. By incorporating a healthy lifestyle regimen through this app, users start eating healthier food, they exercise and walk more.
- Quit That! is for people who’re trying to overcome their addictions. Via the app, users track their habits, stop them, and follow their progress.
- Talkspace is a free app that helps people tackle their depression. Through the app, users share issues with a therapist and get valuable recommendations.
Possible drawbacks of using mental health applications
Along with all the benefits of incorporating mental health apps into the treatment course, both patients and therapists see the drawbacks that can make the use of these digital tools a bad choice.
- Absence of clinical trials
According to the University of Liverpool, there are few or no clinical trials that show efficacy for mental health apps, when compared to other ways of self-help intervention. However, it is important to note that most mental health solutions are informative in nature and don’t require serious studies before launching.
- The level of professional involvement is minimal
In most cases, clinicians aren’t directly involved when the applications are being designed and developed. Unreliable mental health app developers can ignore the needs of potential users. To ensure that mental health apps are developed according to all rules and bring no harm, developers should invite professionals to the development process so that they could point out potential red flags.
- Users are becoming over-reliant on these apps
Mental health applications are never offered as a substitute for traditional therapy. They are additional tools to keep track of the person’s mental health between face-to-face sessions. Over-reliance on the app’s techniques and exercises can lessen the user’s will to seek professional help.
How to develop a reliable mental health app?
Since there are both pros and cons of using mental health apps, the American Psychiatric Association is currently offering to follow their special checklist. This checklist helps medical practices make an informed decision about mental health apps they could incorporate into their therapy:
- Is the mental health application user-friendly?
- Is there any evidence available about the effectiveness of the application?
- Is the app interoperable with other systems?
- Was the app developed according to all privacy and security requirements?
Although there are many reliable mental health apps on the market, most practices prefer to hire a mental health app development company to build their own digital solution. Why? A well-developed mental health application goes beyond reducing costs. It improves the quality of healthcare services, bringing benefits both to app users and stakeholders. Plus, custom-made apps can meet the practice’s needs and offer their patients absolute security, safety, and reliability.