We all feel stressed. Sometimes. But in recent years, the feeling of anxiety, stress, and depression has become a global phenomenon as people are feeling increasingly insecure about their tomorrow. The new study by Boston University paints a dreary picture. It states that depression rates have tripled during the Covid pandemic, meaning that 28% of Americans experienced this mental health condition in March 2020. This number jumped to 32% a year later. The pandemic has affected pretty much everyone, including youth, with students worldwide—from Europe to Australia—showing an extremely high level of distress.
As access to therapy is still a problem for many, and the level of psychological discomfort seems only to grow, we must take matters into our hands and fix it before it’s too late. Can technology help us with that? Can mental health apps and software be the key to tackling one of the biggest modern crises—collective stress?
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Mental health software is already a big topic of interest today. As almost 800 million people globally live with some mental health condition, up to 20,000 mental health applications in the app stores don’t seem to be a big surprise. Mental health app creators strive to change the mental health field in ways that would have been unimaginable in the past.
We’re already seeing solutions aimed at solving a specific mental health issue and those focused on enhancing the general well-being. From apps that just “help you fall asleep” all the way to preventing suicides, mental health software is trying to impact people’s lives in a positive way.
With the global mental health market size is projected to grow from US$1.9 billion in 2020 to US$4.5 billion by 2026, the large flows of investments and the ever-growing demand for solutions of this kind are solid proof that mental health apps are here to stay.
Mental health apps aim to make therapy way cheaper, accessible, and, well, portable. Mental health software has unlocked the opportunity to use tech to help people navigate and manage their recovery process effectively. This is a great supplement or, in some cases, an alternative to traditional therapy. Such apps can help diagnose, provide immediate relief during the crisis, and provide preventive measures to stop breakdowns from happening.
These cheap and sometimes even free tools are created to help people understand themselves better, build new strategies for dealing with their conditions, and keep track of their progress at ease. Some of these applications even allow reaching professionals if the situation is too complex to handle on your own.
Poor mental health can cost us a lot. Even in the year before the pandemic, the global economy lost around US$2.5 trillion because of mental health issues, while the damage was expected only to grow. Depression and anxiety alone were responsible for US$1 trillion in losses.
Governments, businesses, and researchers are trying to find new innovative ways to deal with this problem, and tech seems to be the answer. It is believed that it is mental health software that can develop a diverse ecosystem of highly specialized tools allowing people to find the right solutions for their mental health needs, creating a safer environment for reaching the “I feel well” goal.
The idea of fixing our minds with the help of apps in the modern world is not that surprising. But are mental health apps really helpful in practice? Well, at least some studies think so.
Meta-analyses of trials covering 22 mobile applications showed that using them to ease symptoms of anxiety disorders reduced those symptoms. A similar analysis of depression treatment applications revealed that patients experienced a reduction in depression symptoms after using the software. And according to the study of the popular mindfulness application Headspace, users are less depressed and experience more positive emotions after 10 days of using an app.
The ecosystem of mental health software is pretty large, and many people who first try to find an app like that may feel lost in the vastness of the mental help app space. So to make it a little easier, we have grouped the myriad of mental health apps into different categories. Each is designed to help users handle specific tasks related to stress, anxiety, and more. Here are the most common ones:
The general mental health apps help deal with issues such as anger, stress, or depression. They provide a functional environment where you can learn to manage your mood, change your negative thoughts, and keep calm in uncertain situations.
Examples of general mental health apps:
You can also choose more specific apps for mental health.
Examples of addiction apps:
Examples of anxiety apps:
Examples of bipolar disorder apps:
Although mental health solutions are meant to change people’s lives, there are at least two big challenges we should know about and keep an eye on. The biggest concerns in this context are the lack of privacy and evidence of therapy apps.
Many free mental health applications have business models that rely on advertising, therefore any information you share with such an app may be shared with third-party firms. For example, some apps send their data to Facebook. While the tech giant says that they don’t use sensitive data for targeted ads, yet, we can not be sure that they see the information shared as sensitive.
Furthermore, there are serious concerns about whether these apps can protect the privacy of users’ data as they may lack strong, reliable security systems. Mental health apps collect a lot of personal data, medical data, and records of users’ daily routines. Once this sensitive data is public via social or other third parties, you won’t have any control over it.
But the biggest issue related to mental health apps is the lack of evidence on their effectiveness. Various research shows that most products come with little or no evidence and are not based on serious studies. Most of them use small and non-systematic samples. For example, Australian researchers found out that only 6% of 300 companies that created anxiety and depression apps published some proof of their evidence-based framework.
Part of the reason mental health apps fail to do that is that tech and healthcare are evolving at very different pace. While controlled and randomized studies can take years, the applications – due to the high level of competition – are being developed much more rapidly.
There is also no standard formula for evaluating the effectiveness of CBT-based apps. The critics point out that mental health apps rarely give users credible sources to ensure the information, practices, and outcomes are accurate. Experts also question the therapeutic recommendations of such apps. The mobile apps are often developed under the supervision of firms that have no links to the mental health industry, therefore, they cannot be called reliable.
Considering the vast number of mental health apps and the concerns mentioned, picking the right one might be challenging. However, some resources might simplify this choice.
We all should take better care of ourselves, and for many of us, mental health apps seem to be an easy way out. Depending on the complexity of the condition, people can use mental health apps instead or in addition to sessions with a therapist.
Such tools become a good option for people with no access to a therapist, who are ashamed of asking for help or simply prefer using digital services to solve all of their problems. It is also a great way for companies to enhance their well-being programs and make employees more happy and productive.
One of the biggest strengths of digital health apps is their availability and the ability to access them anytime. Therefore, it is a great option to improve the health of citizens of emerging countries, who usually have very limited access to mental health support.
We can’t say that mental health software is a panacea, but rather a catalyst for understanding that mental health is of equal importance as physical health. Such apps are definitely not the ultimate answer to all your mental health snags, but they can be a good addition to help the healthcare system and improve the quality of people’s life.