There is a proliferation of apps for just about anything in the market these days, but the ones that are specifically geared towards mental health treatment are finding the most takers, the reasons for which are not difficult to visualise.
While some may relate it with the events of the last two years, the fact is that the allure of affordability, convenience and mental health relief which they promise to provide shows that virtual health platforms are not going anywhere in the near future.
Aspects To Consider
Developing a reliable and good mental health app is extremely challenging. It is important to understand the components of design and functionality completely so as to derive maximum benefits for the user.
For an effective mobile mental health product to succeed, it requires the active cooperation of both mental health professionals as well as software solution providers.
If the app’s design or mechanisms are faulty, it may alienate users or not motivate them sufficiently to take the steps on the road to recovery. Again, if the support expected is not received, users might abandon the app altogether.
Over the last year, we saw that even the top-rated online therapy sites struggle with this. Betterhelp had a big falling out with their therapists, while Talkspace struggled with privacy protection issues.
Features To Look For
All apps are not made equal, and the explosion in the mental health care industry has made the task of choosing one even more overwhelming. With an estimated 20,000+ telehealth platforms and apps to choose from, even expert clinicians are finding it hard to sift through so many options that are available on the phone.
Then there are security concerns which need to be met, which makes it even more difficult to figure out which ones are legitimate and worth downloading as against the ones that have flaws and are not worth looking into.
Now that we know that finding a good mental health therapy app is not so easy, let’s discuss some features which should be ideally present in these apps:
- Messaging: The app must include audio, video messaging and texting to help the user to gain quick access to a therapist. Further the chat option flexibility will encourage the patient to be more forthright when sharing their problems.
- Availability: A mental health app should provide connectivity with a therapist 24×7. After all, what is the use of a facility which cannot be availed off in times of need? The app should include another feature that will notify the therapist that a patient is in need, even if they are offline.
- Convenience: For an app to be successful, convenience is the key. The platform should not be complex, have an easy-to-use interface that will encourage more and more users to approach a therapist on a regular basis.
- Colors and visuals: Past user experience has shown that designing an app with color and visual templates instils a calming effect on the minds. This will go a long way in motivating the user to take help from the mental health app more often.
- Evoke positivity: Even if the patient has not used the app for some time, the app should give daily reminders through notifications or messaging that evoke positive thoughts. This will make the patient think in the right direction.
- Progress tracker: An ideal mental health app should have a progress tracker which will indicate the improvement made by the patient on a day-to-day basis. This should be visible to both the therapist as well as the patient.
- Healthy activities: Just talking to a therapist can become monotonous at times, so if an app includes activities like meditation, dancing or arts and crafts, it can eliminate negative feelings and generate good vibes instead.
- Support group options: Patients who are struggling with mental health issues can come together on a common platform by forming support groups. By opening up and sharing problems with like-minded people, you can help cope with the issues they are fighting with.
- Data encryption: The mental health data of a patient should always be kept confidential in order to avoid misuse. The app should be HIPAA or GDPR compliant to keep the patients’ health information concealed and accessible only to the therapist and the patient.
Arguments in Favor Of Online Therapy
Millions around the world suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety, behavioral disorders, depression and other illnesses. Many of those affected are unable to either afford traditional therapy, or worry about the stigma attached with face-to-face consultation, leaving nearly 75% of those with mental disorders with no access to treatment.
The recent spike in the downloads of mental health apps has demonstrated the need of people for mental health solutions. These have been seen as a viable alternative to traditional therapy since they are readily available on smartphones and much lighter on the pocket.
Technology also has the potential to overcome access barriers for those having issues with mobility, people living in rural areas and also for those who are reluctant to seek traditional therapy.
Similarly, these potential advantages come with their inherent barriers and risks which include lack of effective data. Every new technology requires scientific verification, which is in the case of online therapy is currently still somewhat lacking. Traditional therapy has extensive research, which is why it works.
The mental health apps rely on the user for self-diagnosis and treating that specific condition. Which means you have to find out which mental condition is impacting your health and then find an effective app. This means you are left to yourselves to diagnose your ailment.
Many people with mental problems are impacted with more than one condition. An app would only be able to address a part of your problems, while leaving other vexing health issues unattended.
Then there is the risk of over selling. If an app promises more than it can actually deliver, consumers can get impacted by being denied access to more effective treatments.