By Anne Assurance, Digital Editor
A proliferation of mental health apps in recent years means that for the first time, digital wellness and treatment tools are readily bachelor on our smartphones. Only while interest and development of these digital treatments is to be applauded, equally a whole they are yet to be tested for efficacy. In this article, we examine the testify supporting the use of mental wellness apps, too as the concerns that mental wellness professionals have in relation to their utilise.
Global mental health crunch
With the World Health Organisation predicting that one in 4 people in the earth will be affected by mental illness at some point in their lives and around450 million people currently suffering, mental disorders are amid the leading causes of ill health and disability worldwide.
The need is so great it is no surprise the number of therapy apps seems to be increasing exponentially. Research is at present imperative to scrutinise their potential, both robustly and scientifically. Clinicians demand to know if apps tin can ever be more effective than more traditional therapies and whether patients volition utilize mobile wellness or therapy apps in one case the novelty has worn off.
Thrive’s Behaviour Alter Consultant, Dr Felix Naughton, points out that “apps are primarily a commercial enterprise, usually developed past people often thinking in business terms such as profit or return on investment. This is i complication, and that’south why there are so many apps bachelor. Oft they are adult by people without mental wellness expertise, which presents some other challenge.”
Nevertheless, Felix maintains that “there are some people who will answer amend to a well-adult and clinically tested app, rather than face-to-face therapy. The challenge with apps equally things stand up is that they tend not to be as tailored as the treatment you would receive in a confront to face consultation. All the same, it is too the example that a generic face to face intervention may exist no more, or perhaps less, effective than a well-developed app.”
Mental health apps – the evidence
In terms of overall efficacy the jury is notwithstanding out on the utilize of mobile applications in mental health treatment. In a randomised control trial in the United states of america, a chatbot called Woebot was compared to a control grouping who had access to an ebook on mental health. The clinical trial found that the programme delivered measurable improvements on psychometric screening tools, the 9-particular Patient Wellness Questionnaire, the seven-detail Generalised Anxiety Disorder scale and the Positive and Negative Affect Scale among college students. However, these students had not been officially diagnosed with depression or anxiety. Woebot, meanwhile, states 75% of users reported feeling meliorate after using the tool for the first time and a 98.9% accuracy rate in detecting crisis language – essential for intervention purposes.
In a written report for Nature Digital Medicine, researchers analysed the claims on 73 mental wellness apps related to depression, self-harm, substance use, anxiety and schizophrenia. Of the mental health apps, 64% claimed effectiveness at diagnosing a mental health status or improving symptoms or self-management. Notwithstanding none of the apps referenced certification or accreditation processes and just two apps offered “low-quality, primary bear witness” from a study using that detail app. But one app included a citation to published literature.
The researchers noted that while there are plenty of reviews attesting to consumer mobile wellness apps’ success in helping individuals, the majority are simply not evidence-based and can, in fact, “contain harmful content.”
UK-based studies are also looking into the extent to which CBT apps, apps for depression and other therapy apps – both paid for and free – could assistance support the National Health Service.
Indeed, Dr Felix Naughton, suggests that apps may have a vital role to play in supporting traditional methods of therapy, “providing people with the option to apply both face-to-face and app based therapy, rather than i or the other. Composite approaches that integrate one-to-one with digital currently show the best evidence of effectiveness for improving mental wellness disorders only nosotros demand more enquiry in this expanse. In an platonic world, the choice should residual with the person, to choose which form of therapy they want to employ, providing they are given plenty information to make an informed conclusion.”
Technological advancements may too pave the style for mental wellness apps to provide insights that are beyond on the scope of traditional mental health therapy. Dr Felix explains that:
“In that location is existent potential that well developed apps, using tech that is available in smartphones at the moment just has withal to be harnessed sufficiently, could actually provide a level of insight and service that discussion based therapy is unable to. For lots of reasons the perspective provided by the individual to the therapist may not always all-time represent the reality of their mental health in that moment, whereas a mobile health app could be amend placed to get together data on indicators which may provide more than objective insights into the individual’due south mental land at the moment.
“For example, in that location is important work existence done in how location relates to people’south mental wellness, where patterns of movement are analysed to proceeds an insight into their mental health, such as how much fourth dimension they are spending abroad from their domicile, as research has found that when people are depressed they tend to spend more fourth dimension closer to habitation, rather than going out and about. Those patterns might exist quite a useful way of highlighting when that individual is at risk of entering or is in a low mood state, alongside other indicators.”
For the time being, however, usage of mental health apps remains at a relatively low level – despite the about universal adoption of smartphones – with a report from JMIR Mental Health suggesting that as few equally 10% of mental wellness patients have really downloaded a mental health app, while the number who reported regular app use is fewer still.
Nonetheless, in the postal service Covid-19 world, apps will surely play an always-increasing part in how mental health care is administered to back up people suffering with feet or depressive symptoms. But while apps are helpful, currently they should not be considered as a solution in themselves. Mobile apps built by reliable app developers and/or recommended by recognised mental wellness service providers, such as the NHS, should currently be considered every bit an adjunct to clinical communication and professional intendance, not an culling.
The NHS Apps Library
With the overwhelming option of mobile phone apps available on the Apple App Shop and Google Play, it tin be difficult for individuals to make an informed judgement on which app is safe to download. In recognition of this, the NHS Apps Library helps people to notice trusted mental health related digital tools, which have ‘been assessed by the NHS every bit clinically safe and secure to use’.
Read on below to discover some of the mHealth apps assessed equally clinically safety and secure to use by the NHS:
Be Mindful uses Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) to help people to reduce their levels of stress, anxiety and depression and to enhance their mental health and wellbeing.
BlueIce is an bear witness based app designed to aid immature people manage their emotions and reduce urges to self-harm. Developed by Paul Stallard from Oxford Wellness NHS Foundation Trust, the app was co–produced by young people who have lived feel of self-damage.
Calm Harm is an honour-winning app developed for teenage mental health clemency stem4, using the basic principles of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), an evidence-based therapy.
MeeTwo is a self-assistance group which provides anonymous advice to teenagers wanting to discuss issues affecting their lives such equally mental health, self-harming, relationships and friendships.
My Possible Self
My Possible Self is a clinically proven mental health app which enables users to take control of their thoughts, feelings and behaviours through learning modules and mood tracking.
WorryTree is an app designed to help people to record, manage and problem solve their worries using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques.
If you are searching for mental wellness support, please refer to the NHS’s online mental health services resource or contact your local GP.
Anne is a Digital Editor at Thrive. Working at the forefront of health communications, she explores new means to make expert health and behaviour change content more accessible via mobile messaging and emerging chatbot technologies.
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