Are mental health apps the future or far from it?

The invention of the smartphone has caused a drastic change in society and now smartphone apps have even moved on to mental health field as a viable market.

It seems too good to be true. People who struggle with mental disorders of varying degrees can find help in the comfort of their own home, with only their phones.

Medical professionals have been known to make use of smartphones since their rise, finding them to be a helpful way to stay on top of tasks, appointments and even keep track of client information. Now there are numerous mental health apps that promise some kind of comfort or assistance, but are they appropriate for use without the medical degree?

People tend to describe apps in a particular way, namely, that there is an app for everything.

Apps are used by people to deal with problems such as:  anxiety, depression, smoking, alcohol use, psychosis, cognitive performance, relationships, relaxation, sleep, general well being, and so on. This does not assume that therapists and clinicians do not utilize apps and smartphone technology; as previously mentioned, with the rise of smartphone usage, professional mental health care workers have utilized smartphone apps in unison with actual therapy, in order for the patient to receive the best mental health care possible. A patient can keep in touch with their therapist while being able to use apps that are meant to help them along with the therapeutic process, through methods such as keeping them informed as to their mood, storing information that the therapist wants the patient to remember, as well as providing advice to maintain a relaxed, balanced state, depending on what the therapist approves of as legitimate advice.

With the rise of apps everywhere, even in actual professional psychiatry, people should remain mindful.

The number of apps available only grow by the day. “There are thousands of unverified mental health apps available for Apple and Android…,” and of course, quantity does not necessarily equal quality. One has to be very discerning about which apps one should use that will prove to be the most effective. Not every app that promises a quick and easy solution for one’s mental health needs is a miracle cure, much like weight loss pills that are obvious and usually ineffective. While it is impossible to establish an objective standard for app quality, the best apps to choose are likely those that can provide actual statistics and evidence through research, as well as those apps that not only recommend professional help if needed, but can establish a line to therapists if the person seems to require it.

Some good mental health apps recommended by reviewers (user discretion still advised, however):

Big White Wall, an online site now available as a smartphone app that acts as an online community and support for people with mental health issues. People can talk with each other and find advice and guidance from professionals. Notable in that it boasts legitimacy based on research about online services that work.

Sleepio, another online site also available as an app that creates a program to help people with sleep problems. A virtual sleep expert, The Prof, acts as the guide based on the information and knowledge of sleep professionals. The program is based on a legitimate therapeutic concept, cognitive-based therapy, but evidence cited for the results of Sleepio could use a third-party to back up their claims of success.

Bad mental health apps are likely numerous in number, but given how many apps there are, statistically, this is inevitable.

The user should keep in mind that apps for serious mental health issues that advertise themselves as the only needed solution for mental care without recommending therapy or offering to help find therapists if the person is showing intense symptoms should probably be looked at with a critical eye. The major issue that has to be addressed when discussing whether or not mental health apps can be a viable asset is whether or not it acts as a supplement or a replacement for professional care.

The problem is not that therapists may or may not use one of these apps in working with their patients (that depends on the individual, of course), but that people choose these apps as a cheaper alternative to seeking out therapy. This is the primary concern and potential drawback of the popularization of mental health apps, and the central solution should be kept in mind. No matter how expensive professional mental health care may seem, it is worth the cost to find a therapist who can truly interact with and help people in need of them. Those people in need that believe that they cannot afford treatment and thus choose apps to help them with their anxiety or potential schizophrenia or whatever mental problem or disorder they struggle with. This is a continuous problem in America.

From a report in 2011 by the SAMHSA, “National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings” states: “…several reasons were reported for not receiving mental health care. These included an inability to afford care (50.1 percent).”

While an easy solution remains elusive, and probably will for a long time, seeking out professional therapy is a crucial step in getting the help a person genuinely needs. This cannot be overstated enough; mental health care apps still remain largely untested and unknown as to their concrete benefits. One recently written article by Simon Leigh and Steve Flatt, “App-based psychological interventions: friend or foe?,” talks about these issues regarding the drawbacks of mental health apps, “These often stem from the frequent lack of an underlying evidence base, a lack of scientific credibility and subsequent limited clinical effectiveness, but also from issues including an over-reliance on apps, equity in access and increased anxiety resulting from self-diagnosis”.

Therapy is the answer, despite the price.

Working out the monetary cost of professional care can be done with the therapist (many offer a sliding scale), but the potential patient should definitely find an appropriate therapist to help aid their needs.

Some resources to help out with this process are “Paying for Care” by Mental Health America paying-care and “Low-Cost Treatment” by the ADAA.

The ideal use involving mental health care apps is for a therapist to use them to establish easier communication with their patient as well as using them to make the recovery process easier for them. Apps should be reviewed by professional therapists as to whether or not they can be genuinely useful and thus should be utilized by the patient. Of course, for those who are simply curious about these apps or simply need something for a little stress relief (or any other minor problem), mental health apps can be a wonderful resource.

People simply need to remember that, for legitimate mental health issues, professional therapy remains the tried-and-true solution that these apps can only support, not replace.


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