Are Mental Health Apps Helpful?

By | April 1, 2021

Do Mental Health Apps work

There is a sea of mental health apps available for smartphone users. From health and fitness to financial and educational, all kinds of applications are available, and more are being developed right now.  That said, anyone has used two apps meant for the same purpose can tell you that there is a substantial difference from one to the next.

How to Find the Right Mental Health Apps for You

It is important to distinguish helpful mental health apps from unhelpful ones, especially when using something that directly affects your wellness. So, how do we differentiate the good from the bad? There are a number of steps you can take.  Some are pretty easy and obvious, while certain others come down to personal preference and will require a degree of trial and error.

Of course, there are different levels of quality and appropriateness among mental health apps. Our main concern is usually to be able to find one that will help us to achieve a certain goal. For instance, we may want to learn stress-busting techniques, find out how to reduce anxiety, drive ourselves through the initial steps toward overcoming depressive symptoms, or even find an option that will walk us out of a panic attack. There is no single option that will serve all those purposes, and within those categories, we’ll each have our own unique needs and preferences.

That said, it goes beyond what works.

Understanding What You Want to Accomplish from an Application

It’s very important to understand that there is a difference between choosing an app to use as a guide or as a provider of information, and one that will simply become a new obsession.  Mood tracking can be very helpful in providing insight into how someone is feeling over time, when that individual is most likely to feel good and when he or she is likely to experience negative emotions. It helps to identify triggers and trends, which can be great for targeting therapies.  However, obsessing over the individual short-term details instead of the bigger picture can be damaging.

Research conducted by a team at the University of Liverpool suggests mental health apps lack, “an underlying evidence base, scientific credibility and have limited clinical effectiveness.” The research also found mental health app users came to over-rely on these apps and developed anxiety over self-diagnosis. Similarly, studies have shown that sleep apps often cause people to experience a lower quality of sleep and could make insomnia worse because they are paying so much attention to trying to get a better “score” on their apps that it is enough to harm their restfulness. It’s all in how they are used.

Choose Quality Resources for Mental Health Apps

Remember that the mental health apps you choose should be developed by someone who knows what they’re doing.  Not just in terms of functionality, but in terms of providing you with information, features and resources you can trust to be research based. Ideally, they should be supported by credible sources, peer reviewed, and should be factual to help its users effectively.

The research team at Liverpool also remarked on the rate at which these apps are produced. The number of apps which are released will always outweigh the rate at which they can be evaluated. For an app to be credible, it has to be evaluated through observational studies with patients suffering from mental health problems. Such studies take time, while these apps are designed and launched within days.
Depleting resources for psychological services have given a rise to these apps. As patients have turned to alternative sources of support, many fulltime mental health doctors and nurses have faced unemployment. But they don’t know that relying on apps is ineffective and may possibly cause their mental health to worsen.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t any good mental health apps out there. There are a number of very strong ones that can be used as a first step on the way to more traditional therapy or that can be used as a companion to therapy.

Why Bother Trying to Find One?

So, why do people reach out for these apps in the first place? It is mainly due to a lack of resources or an intention to try to use self-help strategies before speaking to a therapist. Still, it’s very important to take care. Self-diagnosis is a dangerous habit and could lead you down the wrong path. While there is nothing wrong with becoming more aware of your mood trends or making efforts to control your stress levels, before assuming you have depression, a specific type of anxiety disorder, or another mental illness, it is best to receive a diagnosis from a medical professional.

Diagnosis of mental health problems is harder than other illnesses as the symptoms are emotional. For example, influenza has symptoms such as fever, cold and cough, while depression has symptoms such as anxiety, sadness, anger or irritability. 50% of the time when a patient visits their general physician for mental health problems, they are not guided properly. This causes them to seek help elsewhere, leading them to mental health apps. The benefit of apps is they are available at your fingertips and can be accessed from the comfort of your home.

Examples of Studied Mental Health Apps

There are some clinically proven apps by the National Health Service in the UK that have shown proven results. The first app was the Big White Wall, which is a social networking platform for people suffering from mental health problems. Similarly, other NHS apps dealing with mental health issues are Moodscope, Happyhealthy and WorkGuru which helps with work stress. Other apps that are clinically supported are Sleepio, for sleep management and Wizard, for schizophrenia patients.

Mental health apps, if chosen wisely, can be beneficial to people suffering from mental health illnesses. The key is to understand that these are support tools and cannot replace professional diagnosis and therapies, particularly in more severe cases of mental illness.

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