Discussions surrounding mental health have been around for many years and awareness about the topic continues to gain popularity every year as more and more people suffer from depression. World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.”
Due to the increased awareness concerning mental well-being and the advancement in mobile technology, there has been a rise in the number of mental apps available to people at their fingertips. Still, recent findings show that most of these apps exploit their users’ privacy for their marketing gains. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 forced people to stay at home, and as a result, a huge growth in the digital health industry as people were restricted to digital consultations since physical meetings with physicians became difficult due to government regulations. As people continued to spend more time at home to combat the spread of the Coronavirus, studies indicate that mental health app recommendations by physicians to patients went up by a staggering 6500 per cent. As the e-health industry continues to grow, funding in the sector has increased and we now have thousands of apps offering clinical and non-clinical support to people suffering from mental health problems. While some of these apps are truly beneficial, there are important considerations that need to be taken in place before using them.
Benefits of Mental Health Apps
While there are risks associated with using mental health apps, they still offer a range of benefits to individuals needing support in managing their mental well-being. Outlined below are some of the most important reasons people have them on their mobile devices:
- Accessibility – Making appointments with mental health physicians can be tough and there are not many around specialised in this field. Thanks to mental health apps, individuals suffering from mental illness have easy access to necessary support without going through much stress.
- Affordability – Not only are mental health physicians not readily available but they are also expensive to retain. People going through any form of mental illness are usually advised to go to rehab or for therapy sessions which are not very affordable. Why mental health apps
- Regular Support – Unlike traditional meetings with physicians which are only possible during working hours, mental health apps are available all the time, and some provide 24-hour support for users who subscribe to the “pro” tier of these apps.
- Communities and Peer Support – Some mental health apps provide the option for users to connect. Users belong to a community and these apps provide a platform for them to connect so they do not feel lonely or isolated.
- Progress Tracking – Similar to the way therapists can track the progress of their patients, mental health apps let users monitor their progress levels. Users can track their behaviour, mood, and emotions by performing required actions and putting their progress on the apps.
- Anonymity – While the internet is not completely private, mental health apps can provide a sense of anonymity for people who are afraid to come out to share their struggles or for fear of being stigmatised.
- Customisation – A lot of mental health apps provide various customisation options that allow users to tailor their experience based on their needs and goals.
Considerations and Caveats Associated with the Usage of Mental Health Apps
While there are a lot of positives that come with using mental health apps, there are negatives to it as well. It is important to understand that technology cannot replace human connection or the treatment of a real professional. A recent study conducted on 578 mental health-related apps revealed that only 15 per cent of these apps provide treatments based on clinical evidence. The services offered by these apps are at best basic, and cannot be used to treat very serious mental illness.
Another thing to consider before using mental apps is the issue of privacy. To be able to function properly, health-related apps require their user to provide information such as age, nationality, country, medical history, medication, location, sleeping habits and many more. These applications require users to grant tracking access and permission, giving them access to a lot of user data. While these applications have privacy policies, the policies are not clearly written, and they offer loopholes which allow them to share user data with third parties.
Choosing the Right App and Balancing Real Connections
With findings proving that only a small number of these apps provide clinical treatment, it is important to know the right app to download. Before using any mental health app, it is important to discuss with a mental health physician for advice before committing to any app. Some apps are integrated with real mental health facilities and are designed to complement treatment from a real professional, instead of computer-based treatments. People suffering from mental health disorders, who cannot afford a consultation with a physician should do proper research and check reviews before committing to an e-health treatment.
While some of these mobile apps are useful for treating mental disorders, it is important to maintain a balance by seeking support from friends and family, instead of staying in isolation. People who suffer from mental illness are known to isolate themselves and restrict having physical interactions with other human beings. Participating in activities, learning how to play musical instruments or picking up a new skill are some of the ways people suffering from mental illness can help with their recovery.
In conclusion, everyone needs to be mindful of their mental health and seek medical advice when necessary and applicable. As the digital health industry continues to experience exponential growth, more and more people will embrace the use of digital applications for treating mental health disorders but users still need to take proper caution and make sure they use the right mobile applications when prioritising their mental health.