Health & Wellbeing

The Power of apps for improving mental health

The idea that an app could replace face-to-face doctor’s appointments or be recommended over prescribed treatments for mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety is abhorrent to most of us.

But there is evidence that digital solutions are having such positive effects they could soon be a key part of treatment plans for anyone needing ongoing help for mental health issues.

“A third of doctors in the US prescribe digital services, ranging from behavioural to medication management,” wrote Ian Pocock, director of digital consultancy and design agency Transform, in an opinion piece for digitalhealth.net.

Pocock cited research by American healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente which found patients with chronic illnesses spent 0.1 per cent of their time with a medical professional. Pocock believes that there is huge potential to introduce healthy self-managed habits into the remaining 99.9 per cent of patients’ lives via technology, especially smart phones.

“For those using an app”, Pocock claimed, “there is a 10% improvement in people sticking to their drug regime and a 30% improvement in adherence to wellbeing tasks.”

He also pointed out that missed doctor’s appointments had declined by 40 per cent in the United Kingdom as a result of SMS reminders.
Of course how people use digital technology – and the apps they consistently use – is both the problem and the solution. It’s all very well downloading an app that looks nice and is highly-rated only to find it boring or not helpful for the major problems and stresses in your life.

Download a bunch of apps without enough thought and chances are you won’t use any of them properly. There are an overwhelming number of apps built to help people manage their physical and especially mental health today, far too many to attempt to trial, or for us to recommend for that matter.

One of the most crowded marketplaces is apps to help with mental health solutions. There are literally thousands, from yoga apps to those providing relaxing music or ocean sounds, memory and brain training, sleep hygiene, purpose-built stress and anxiety relievers, meditation and mindfulness which is one of the boom categories. Search ‘mindfulness’ in the Google Play store and you will find over 250 apps.

There is little doubt that a daily mindfulness meditation practice can have benefits to our mental health, by definition lessening the burden of problems like anxiety and depression on individuals and companies. On its website, world-renowned Mayo Clinic says: “meditation may help people manage symptoms of conditions such as: Anxiety disorders, Asthma, Cancer, Depression, Heart disease, High blood pressure, Pain, Sleep problems.” We should point out made no mention of apps for meditation, though this has become a delivery method accepted by mental health experts.

“Apps hold amazing potential as mental health and wellbeing tools,” wrote David Bakker and Nikki Rickard, both senior psychology specialists at Australia’s Monash University in an article at theconversation.com.

“You can carry them everywhere, engage with them in real time as you’re experiencing distress, and interact with them in a completely different way to other self-help tools.”

The online article included a checklist for what to look for in a mental health app. It included looking for “evidence-based techniques”; the capacity to record your thoughts, feelings and behaviours; suggestions for non-technology based activities, especially those that encourage connection with others; the ability to be used when you are triggered; and evidence to prove it works.

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