How To Choose A Mental Health App

With the high demand for therapists and the long waiting list that makes it challenging to find a provider, using a mental health app can seem like a tempting and relatively inexpensive way to get help.

These apps claim to help with various problems such as addiction, insomnia, anxiety and schizophrenia, often using tools such as games, therapy chatbots or mood-tracking diaries. But most are uncontrolled. While some may be considered useful and secure, others may have shaky (or non-existent) privacy policies and lack of high quality research shows that apps comply with their marketing demands.

Stephen Schuller, executive director of One Mind Cyberguide, a nonprofit project that reviews mental health apps, says the lack of control has created a “wild waste,” which has been exacerbated by the Food and Drug Administration’s relaxation of requirements for digital psychiatry products. 2020

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact number of mental health apps available, but a 2017 estimate says there were at least 10,000 available for download. And these digital products are becoming profitable business. At the end of last year, Deloitte Global predicted that global spending on mobile mental health applications would reach close to $ 500 million by 2022.

So how do you make a conscious decision about how to add one to your phone? We asked several experts for guidance.

In general, mental health apps can help people gain insights into how their thoughts, feelings, and actions interact with each other, says Dr. John Torres, director of digital psychiatry at Beth Israel Decones Medical Center. They can also help facilitate the skills that patients learn during therapy, he added.

Director of Education, Department of Geriatric Psychiatry, MacLean Hospital. Stephanie Collier points out that mental health apps can “work well with physical activity goals, such as step counters” because exercise can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

“Similarly,” he said, “apps that teach deep breathing skills can be helpful for anyone experiencing stress – whether stress is the result of an anxiety disorder or situation.”

For some people, however, apps are not a great fit.

Apps work best when people are motivated and have mild illness, Dr. Collier said. “People with moderate or severe depression may not have enough motivation to complete the modules in the mobile app due to illness.”

No, and not especially if you have weak symptoms.

“These are not treatments alone,” said Dr. Collier. “But they can be effective if used in conjunction with therapy.”

“Ideally, mental health apps teach skills,” said Vail Wright, senior director of healthcare innovation at the American Psychological Association.

“Maybe I should get some more professional help,” he said.

Dr. Torres offers his patients a free app called MindLAMP, which he created to improve their mental health treatment. It tracks changes in a person’s sleep patterns, physical activity and symptoms; This allows the therapist to customize the “homework” given to their patients.

For the most part, no. The Food and Drug Administration controls a small subset of apps that provide treatment or diagnosis or are attached to controlled medical devices. But most mental health apps are not under government supervision.

Thus, some apps claim unproven marketing, warn experts, or offer worse, inaccurate and potentially harmful information.

“The number of products exceeds the research evidence,” said Dr. Schuler, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of California, Irvine. “Unfortunately many of the research that exists in this area is done internally by companies,” he adds, instead of neutral outside groups.

Also, there is no need to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of all wellness apps, known as HIPAA, which governs the confidentiality of patient health records.

In a recent study, Dr. Torres and his colleagues examined the regulatory loopholes in the digital health app, which could lead to a variety of problems, such as incorrect phone numbers for the Suicide Crisis Helpline. The study also highlighted a previous survey that shared data from 29 of the 36 top-ranked apps on Facebook or Google for depression and smoking cessation, but only 12 accurately disclosed it in their privacy policy.

And in March, a study concluded that an app designed to help people with schizophrenia did not perform better than a placebo (in this case, a digital countdown timer).

“All of these apps that claim to be effective in elementary or preliminary or feasibility studies will probably have to study themselves with high quality science,” said Dr. Torres.

After all, just because an app is popular in the online marketplace doesn’t mean it will be safer or more efficient.

“As a physician who has used care apps for more than five years, it has always been difficult to understand which apps match patients,” said Dr. Torres. “You really need to think about how we can respect people’s personal backgrounds, preferences and needs.”

Instead of searching for the “best app” or the one with the highest ratings, try to make a conscious decision about which app will be the best match for you, he added.

One place to start research is the website Mind Apps, created by health professionals at Beth Israel Lahe in Massachusetts. It has reviewed over 600 apps and is updated every six months. Look at the factor like the reviewers Cost, security and privacy concerns and whether the app is supported by research.

Another website, One Mind Cyberguide, evaluates health apps for reliability, user experience, and transparency in privacy practices. The project, which is approved by the University of California, Irvine, has more than 200 apps in its database and is reviewed annually.

Although both MindApps and One Mind Psyberguide offer an overview of an app’s privacy policy, you may want to dig into specific topics yourself.

See what kind of information it collects, its security measures and whether it sells information to third parties or uses the information for advertising. Collier says.

According to a 2019 survey, less than half of mobile apps for frustration even have a privacy policy, and most privacy policies are provided after users enter their data.

“It’s no surprise that some people have reservations about using this type of mobile app when you don’t know how your data is being used,” said Kristen O’Loughlin, lead research author and graduate research assistant. Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.

Choose your app based on the information available with the disclosure of personal information and your own level of comfort, he added.

The answer to this question may depend on who you are asking. But experts have all spoken highly of the mental health apps created by the federal government, such as PTSD Coach; Mindfulness Coach; And CPT Coach, for people who are practicing cognitive processing therapy with a professional mental healthcare provider.

These apps are not only well-studied but also free, without any hidden cost. They have an excellent privacy policy and say that personal information will never be shared with third parties.

In addition to those apps, Dr. Collier recommends:

  • Breathe2Relax (an app designed by the US Department of Defense to teach abdominal breathing)

  • Virtual Hope Box (an app developed by the Defense Health Agency that provides emotional control and stress relief)

    For more advice, check out this list of apps on the websites of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. The list, created in consultation with Dr. Schuller, includes several free options.

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