Mental Health Apps: Patients’ Friends or Foes?

Technology is seeping into every crevice of our lives. It’s safe to say it has already changed the face of healthcare, opening new frontiers to bolstering patient well-being. Mental health treatment is no exception.

Today, 300 million people around the world are troubled with depression. To assist them and those suffering from other similar maladies, developers are trying to build workable mental health apps (MHapps).

These apps provide continuous support, relieve stress, collect relevant data, and track behavioral patterns. Given this myriad of benefits, mental health has the potential to be partially or fully mobilized in the near future.

Mental Health Apps: Patients’ Friends or Foes? A man on his cellphone.However, there’s a harsh dispute on MHapps’ effectiveness. Some researchers suggest that such apps bring positive outcomes. Others argue that technology implementation for tackling mental health issues may become a double-edged sword and lead to over-reliance or anxiety around self-diagnosis.

Therefore, before widely adopting mobile apps for mental health treatment, it’s paramount to consider the possible pros and cons.

A Dive Into Advantages

MHapps are already on a strong roll, and in the not too distant future, they will invade the mHealth market given a wealth of advantages they offer.

  1. Versatility. Mental health apps come in handy in fulfilling plenty of needs. They relieve stress, track passive symptoms, hone thinking skills, and more.
  2. Quick access. MHapps provide 24/7 support, and patients can start treatment anywhere: in the comfort of their own homes or in a public place. Such apps are also convenient for people living in remote areas or those who find themselves in a sudden need at a time of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.
  3. Alternative communication channels. People with mental disorders may feel unease about voicing their problems in support groups. MHapps let them avoid verbal, face-to-face communication.
  4. Lower cost. Many mental health apps available on iTunes and Google Play can be downloaded for free or at an affordable price. Thus, patients get professional medical care that doesn’t put a dent in their savings.
  5. Adjunct therapy. mHealth apps serve as a supplement to traditional care and allow reinforcing the material learned during clinical sessions.
  6. Gamification. Advanced MHapps powered by gamification features are like a breath of fresh air in comparison with obsolete methods of patient engagement. They may contribute to expanding the user base and inspire sufferers to continue treatment.

Insight Into Disadvantages

Aside from a bunch of the above-mentioned benefits, MHapps have some weak spots and come under a lot of fire.

  1. Lack of regulations. The major concern about mHealth apps is that many of them don’t comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and aren’t reviewed by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
  2. Impersonal connection. Therapeutic alliance is a key indicator of going in the right direction. When a patient uses a mobile app to talk to a clinician, close interpersonal communication is lost, and chances for quick recovery and overall success may be slight.
  3. Tackling surface needs. California-based family therapist Aida Vazin admits that MHapps may be addressing just the surface or a fragment of the needs of an individual, since apps have limitations on how personalized the experience may be.
  4. Lack of effectiveness metrics. Any mHealth app is able to arm sufferers with statistics on certain aspects of their physical and mental health. Unfortunately, these figures are not always evidence-based.
  5. Overpromising. MHapps may be not so snazzy as it is believed and underdeliver on value. So, there is a concern that patients will abandon mobile apps to look for more efficient methods of treatment.
  6. Customization cost. As a rule, an MHapp won’t lighten your wallet. However, psychiatrists may need a state-of-the-art product with advanced features for clinical use. In this case, doctors are forced to team up with a medical software company on creating a custom solution, which involves additional expenses.

A Balancing Act

In this article, we have featured the equal number of pros and cons, which makes it difficult to decide on the MHapps’ value.

Fortunately, there are relevant guidelines, recommendations, and principles to lead and mentor developers in devising industry-compliant and impactful solutions.

If those regulations become obligatory and mobile app stores impose stricter criteria for a product approval, MHapps will surely have a bright future.

 Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash