Apps

As it stands, there’s no way to ensure an app really does what it says it does. There’s no “Good Housekeeping Seal,” so to speak, for these mental health apps - Jeffery Lieberman

Apps

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To meet the need, a cottage industry has developed: Well-intentioned and enterprising individuals have designed over 3,000 apps dedicated to mental health, only some of which are free. The apps vary in function but most fall in line with the current zeitgeist of Track Thyself (whether it be calories, weight, steps or depression). The good news is that these kinds of apps increase access to health support and that access is portable. But their use should be supplemental, rather than a primary therapeutic avenue.

One of the most significant problems with apps is the high attrition rate: People begin using them but often tire of the required dedication quickly. More important, using an app doesn’t allow individuals to deeply connect to other humans – be they therapist or friend. In-person interaction is something we've benefited from for thousands of years as a species. Regulating our emotional lives via an app is a lot to ask of our stone age minds that perceive others’ emotions based on facial expression, voice, body language and touch. Some people need humans more than they think.

In addition, tracking one’s caloric intake, weight or steps over the course of days and weeks is child’s play compared to faithfully recording, let alone understanding, one’s emotions. As a scientist who studies emotion, I believe it’s possible to study one’s emotional life systematically, but most apps fall woefully short of helping individuals truly assess themselves.

When considering the use of apps as therapy, one has to ask the most important question: Does it work? There are some promising studies showing positive effects of some apps, but to date, there have been few randomized clinical trials with adequate people and diversity to say anything definitive. “Further evidence about efficacy is needed,” wrote the authors of one recent review of the scientific literature.

The proliferation of apps and their use has outpaced the scientific evidence. Ultimately, people would be well served to go beyond Internet apps to help alleviate the depressive and anxious episodes they experience.

Source: Matthew Hertenstein, The Use of Apps for Mental Health Has Outpaced the Scientific Evidence, The New York Times, September 22, 2015.

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Last Updated : Wednesday, October 30, 2019