The Cost of Choosing An App For Mental Health

It comes as no surprise to find that there is basically an app for almost everything we could think of — even mental health. Although mental health is a really big issue people face, mental health services have become very limited due to factors such as cost, timing, location, fear, and a shortage in therapists. With advancement in technology, the tech industry has thought of a solution to resolve this problem, which was by creating different types of apps that focus on certain aspects to help mentality to make mental health services easily accessible because they monitor emotions, and provide activities that help improve thought patterns without having to worry about finding availability, location, and office hours of a therapist (Ben-Zeev).

When mental health sufferers use these apps, they are promised that they will return to living a normal lifestyle without having to go through the issues to find a therapist that works with them and their schedule. Even though there are many apps that make this same promise, the effectiveness of the app comes into question whether it actually works or not. Some psychologists believe that these apps aren’t the best treatment to rely on because the way one is treated is based off of body language, touch, facial expressions, and tone of voice (Hertenstein). Looking down at a phone and opening up an app prevents that kind of connection therapists need to treat the patient in a way that really helps the individual mentally.

Different apps have different purposes that help with mental health, whether it is emotions, altering the individual’s thought patterns, or connecting with groups and therapists, they all have a purpose. Apps such as Talkspace allow the individual to talk to a therapist anonymously, while Mood24/7 will record the individual’s emotions. Another app called Optimism focuses on finding strategies that will help with coping in situations that one feels they can’t handle or find a way to overcome that problem. Therefore, the effectiveness of the app is the most important thing to know about using these apps because an individual needs to know whether it’s worth investing so much of their time into an app that may or may not work.

A reason that psychologists don’t believe in this type of treatment is because a study done by the BMJ had found that digital therapy sessions weren’t effective based on a four month study of testing depressed patients. These researchers found that the patient’s mentality didn’t improve after using the programs (Shallcross). Sometimes these programs can be effective, but only in certain circumstances. For example, the patient would need to have a mild case of depression for it to possibly work and even then, it’s a lot harder to tell if it will actually work because there is no solid evidence that the apps really improve mentality.

Although some psychologists may be against using mental health apps, there can be some benefits to using these apps. The only thing is that it just needs to be designed in a way that will work with the person. Nearly 80 percent of Americans who suffer with depression, receive no mental health care, which makes the app more likeable because it could provide services at a cheaper cost than traditional treatments (Mohr). These apps do provide many benefits to people, but there are also many reasons as to why it shouldn’t be used as a primary source. (Hertenstein)

Using these apps as a main source of treatment isn’t the smartest choice that a person can make. Reason being that these apps don’t have solid evidence that they actually work, as well as not providing the physical connection needed to help the individual through depression. Mental health apps are used to self monitor one’s mind and emotions, but depression isn’t an illness an individual can get over alone, which then make these apps less effective. Therefore, mental health apps should not be used to treat depression.

Lack of Human Connection

Although many people believe that mental health apps are beneficial — less money-spending and easy access to services — it doesn’t replace the human interaction needed to aid the individual into a more positive mindset. Mental health apps have created this promise between the individual and the app itself that it will “fix” the person without having to go through therapy. For most mental problems, the psychological pain one goes through arises in response to problematic human relationships and traumatic history, which means that depression, should be healed through a human relationship as well (Atlas). Mental health apps may promise to get you through depression, but the only thing it’s useful for is keeping track of your feelings on a daily basis. The purpose of in-person therapy, is to help talk through problems and to change the negative thoughts into positive thoughts that way their moods and behaviors change (Shallcross). That being said, in-person therapy is the better option. Also, by using these apps instead of interacting with another human being, one may start to become very reliant among the app because they’ll believe it can do everything a therapist can do without the actual therapist. What it does is it allows these individuals to convince themselves that they can get through their depression themselves (Atlas). Using that logic, it actually prevents the individual from getting the help they need and they’ll most likely feel more alone than they ever have before.

No Solid Evidence

Even though there are over 1,500 apps for mental illnesses, there hasn’t been much research to show that they actually work, measure their efficacy, and provide little information about which app can help and which one could hinder recovery (Edelstein). Apps like Big White Wall provide a community support service with access to trained healthcare professionals at any time of the day while others provide the automated cognitive behavioral therapy and methods for tracking moods. Unfortunately, only 4 out of 27 mental health apps recommended by the NHS — National Health Service — have actually provided actual hard evidence of results that it does work. (Leigh) This only proves that these apps that individuals try to use to treat their depression might not actually work and may start to think that if an app can’t fix what they feel, nothing or no one else can either. By the end, it’s just a waste of time and money, as well as a result of nothing being resolved. Without any solid evidence, then there is no reason to even try to sell the app or even use it in the first place.

The Attachment To Our Phones

We live in a world where people are very attached to smartphones and can’t seem to put them down. For a situation such as depression it may sound like a good idea to use mental health apps, but in reality it isn’t. The main reason is because people may start to become more reliable and dependent on the app itself. When these apps are relied upon to fix depression, what’s actually happening is that you start to feel a sense isolation and even more alone than they’ve ever felt before (Shallcross). That’s not the point of therapy — you’re supposed to find ways to cope with depression through activities rather than sit around on your phone defeating the purpose of the app to begin with. Isolation isn’t a good thing for depressed people and it would reverse the outcome of what an individual is working towards. This often will lead to the replacement of an actual person (Graham). By replacing an interaction between the individual and the therapist with an interaction between the individual and a phone, there is more of a chance that the individual will never be able to put down the phone and realize what really needs to happen in order for them to reach their goal.

The Dedication Required

In order for any of these mental apps to work for someone with depression, they’d need to have a great amount of motivation to continue until it works. The main problem in this system is that since it requires more dedication, people can often become tired and bored (Hertenstein). This shows that it isn’t worth the time and effort. The motivation and determination to fix one’s self only lasts for a certain amount of time before things start to go back to how they used to be. Therefore, if they don’t have that dedication to constantly enter their feelings into an app, they aren’t really getting anything out of the app (Sukel). Basically, the reason people get bored is because they start to feel like it’s homework to constantly have to check-in with the app. These apps are supposed to be used with the help of a professional, meaning that after a professional has actually met with the person, they should recommend something to keep track of their feelings — an app. Take the app MoodGym for example. Some pros to it is that it’s self-guided, concepts are easy to understand, and the quizzes are helpful in pinpointing area of problem and focus. Some cons is the text heavy resources, and unable to skip through irrelevant sections. The quizzes become repetitive and boredom occurs (Donkin).

With all these downsides of using an app to snap someone out of depression, these reasons are only proof that they should not even be used in the first place. To resolve the issue that thousands of people face mentally, they need to put the phone down and find a therapist that will be available no matter how long it takes. Having a healthy mentality is so important in life because it’s how the way life is lived is determined.

Works Cited

Atlas, Galit. “Mental Health Apps Are Not an Adequate Substitute for Human Interaction.” Room for Debate. The New York Times, 21 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

Ben-Zeev, Dror. “Even Those with Severe Mental Illnesses Benefit from Therapy Apps.” Room for Debate. The New York Times, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

Edelstein, Jean Hannah. “Can You Trust an App with Your Mental Health? | Jean Hannah Edelstein.” Opinion. Guardian News and Media, 07 Apr. 2016. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

Graham, Sarah. “Can an App Really Help Manage Your Mental Health? | VICE | United States.” VICE. The VICE, 14 Aug. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

Leigh, Simon. “There’s No Evidence That Most Mental Health Apps Actually Work.” Newstatesman. Newstatesman, 20 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

Mohr , David C. “Digital Mental Health Therapies Work, But Must Be Refined.” Room for Debate. The New York Times, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

Shallcross, Lynne. “Depressed? Look For Help From A Human, Not A Computer.” NPR. NPR, 12 Nov. 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.

Sukel, Kayt. “The Head-scratching Reason There’s No Mental Health Apps.” Fortune. Fortune, 30 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2016.

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