How To Navigate The World Of Mental Health Apps

Credit: Natalie Nicole

Where should you begin your search when looking for a mental health app?

This post is sponsored by SheMedia and Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. I
have been compensated for my time, but the experiences and opinions expressed
here are my own.

Have you used mental health apps within the last two years? I ask this question because, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, one in five adults experience mental illness each year. With a growing prevalence of mental illness, many people are turning to new innovative tools and resources to help manage their mental health conditions – with apps becoming a popular choice. Yet, with app stores full of options, how do you navigate and find something that might work for you?

Exploring Mental Health Apps

It’s estimated that there are over 10,000 mental health apps available for download. Search results bring up a variety of options that can range from meditation guidance, access to a licensed therapist, or focus on cognitive behavioral therapy methods. There are also options for mood trackers, sleep relaxation, and so much more. Despite the vast options falling under the same umbrella, not all mental health apps are the same. As this is a new and fast-growing area of healthcare, it’s increasingly more important to
understand that there are different categories of mental health apps designed for specific needs.

Two types of mental health apps include traditional health/wellness apps and digital therapeutics apps.

Wellness apps are intended to promote healthy behaviors and wellness through things like teaching meditation skills, helping users stick to healthy habits, and providing general information and tips. They are not treatments for health conditions and are generally not supported by evidence-based research.

Digital therapeutics are meant to prevent, manage, or treat a medical disorder or disease, often under a clinician’s direction, and must meet certain core principles regarding user privacy, security, and clinical evidence.

It should be mentioned that there is also a subset of digital therapeutics that are called prescription digital therapeutics. These apps are specifically designed to clinically treat a medical condition and like medications, must undergo clinical trials to ensure they are safe and effective – ultimately gaining FDA clearance. These apps can also only be prescribed by a clinician or doctor.

woman on cellphone
Credit: Moyo Studio/Getty Images

Finding The Right Mental Health App For You

Yes, there are an extensive number of apps to choose from and it can be overwhelming
to try to sort them all out. When searching for a mental health app, there are key
questions you should consider:

  • Are there data or studies showing this app is effective at what it claims to do?
  • Who is the app developer and what experience do they have in mental health?
  • How will my data be protected? Will it be shared with third parties?
  • What do trusted sources say about this product?

As a general starting point, ask your primary care physician/medical provider if they
recommend specific mental health apps.

The Future of Mental Health Apps

Many people struggle to find help for their mental health needs. Between the shortage
of mental health professionals, lack of resources, long wait times for an appointment, or
the stigma around mental health, apps may help ease some of the burdens. The hope is
that with increasing availability and access to mental health apps, there may be an
opportunity to provide additional support in conjunction with medications when needed
and reach people with that support in a place and time that works for them.

How do you feel about digital apps for mental health? What do you think are some of
the benefits of these mental health tools?

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