A Guide to Mental Health Apps

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Person holding an iphone looking at appsSmartphones are changing the way people approach health and wellness. From fitness trackers to nutrition and calorie count apps, smartphones give individuals tools to proactively pursue better health. Even those with chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes can choose from a variety of apps to help them manage and control their conditions. In 2010, consumers downloaded a whopping 9 billion healthcare apps, a figure that is expected to reach nearly 77 billion by the end of 2014 according to the International Data Corporation.

Technology, however, has often underserved those with mental health issues. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that costs associated with mental illness, including the cost of psychiatric treatment and medications as well as costs associated with lost income and earning potential, will top $6 trillion globally by 2016. Fortunately, the medical technology industry is turning its attention to the needs of people with mental illness, and new apps to support these individuals are reaching the marketplace.

Types of Mental Health Apps

There are a variety of apps that vary in complexity and utility, depending on the individual’s condition. Some apps simply coach deep breathing and relaxation techniques to help manage stress and anxiety. Some are mood tracking apps to help those suffering from depression and bipolar disorders. For those undergoing cognitive or dialectical behavioral therapy, apps are available that coach self-help skills and support therapeutic goals.

More complex apps are in testing and development that utilize machine learning to help those suffering from major depression or PTSD. These interactive apps actually track and monitor an individual’s behavior and prompt helpful activities such as “positive self-talk” to help defuse a potential crisis situation.

Limitations of Mental Health Apps

Since most treatment for mental disorders depends on face-to-face interaction between an individual and his or her therapist, technology cannot be seen as a replacement for therapy. Apps can and do fill a critical support role, however. By encouraging patients to be more aware of their mood, behavior, and potential trigger points, suggesting healthy options for dealing with stress and depressive episodes, and reinforcing techniques learned in therapy, mental health apps provide valuable tools to patients and clinicians.

Useful Mental Health Apps

While no single app is right for everyone, here are three of the more well-respected ones:

  • Mobilyze, developed by researchers at Northwestern University, gathers data about a person’s activity level, location, and social interactions to identify potential bouts of depression and suggest ways to prevent them.
  • Live OCD Free, developed by therapist Dr. Kristen Mulcahy, reinforces exposure response therapy and offers tools for relaxation and obsession control. The app can even be set to report to the patient’s therapist on a regular basis.
  • What’s My M3 is an app developed by psychiatrists to assess anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Upon completion of a three-minute questionnaire, the app computes a score that predicts the potential for a mental health crisis and recommends a course of action.

For those suffering with mental health conditions, apps can be a useful tool for managing symptoms and supporting treatment objectives.

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