If you’re one of about 36% of Americans who report symptoms of anxiety or depression, have used or considered using a mental health app for support maybe.
But with thousands of mental health smartphone apps in a large and growing market, you may be wondering how good the app really is. And can you trust them?
Despite many available options, new research shows the market is not optimally serving consumers due to limited innovation, evidence-based interventions, and adequate privacy controls is suggested.
New research, presented at JAMA Network Open this week, aims to systematically evaluate available mental health apps based on important measures such as clinical validation and privacy practices. Researchers also examined the degree of innovation and the relationship between app privacy measures and app popularity.
Researchers analyzed 578 mental health-related apps across 105 dimensions using the App Rating Framework established by the American Psychiatric Association.
The study included only apps that cost $10 or less to download, and were free, basic versions, or free trials of apps, not in-app purchases or paid subscriptions to unlock. and ratings based on the app description in the app store. A complete set of features. Most of the apps included in the study (88%) were free to download, but only 39% were completely free.
Lack of differentiation leads to lost opportunities
The study revealed a lack of evidence and innovation among the apps evaluated.
Most apps are not based on clinical evidence, and only 15% provide research demonstrating efficacy or feasibility. Researchers did not assess the quality of the studies, even if they were available.
Furthermore, we found little variation, or innovation, between app studies.
Most of the apps shared similar functionality. The most common app features were psychoeducation (41%), goal setting (38%) and mindfulness (38%). Apps that collect input using user research (45%), diary entries (34%), and microphones (21%) were the most common. Other key features of the app include mood and symptom tracking, journaling, and deep breathing.
The most common apps provided notifications (68%), data summaries (61%), and informational resources (50%). Only a minority (15%) of apps collected passive data such as biofeedback such as step counts and heart rate, and location information.
“Most apps offer very basic symptom tracking, journaling, mindfulness exercises, or basic information about mental illness,” says Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s director of digitalpsych.org in Boston. said MBI’s John Taurus, M.D., senior author of the study. “Few people take advantage of the unique nature of smartphones to offer new interventions and resources.”
The most common conditions the app addressed were tobacco use (33%), stress and anxiety (28%), and mood disorders that were considered non-serious (20%). Few apps are designed for people with serious mental illness, just 2% address schizophrenia, for example. For-profit app makers are much less likely to deliver apps in critical condition.
According to Torous, this lack of focus on serious mental health conditions represents a missed opportunity.
“Ideally, the app could serve the people who need it most: those with severe mental illness,” he said. “Our team has been conducting research and clinical care with the app for this population and has seen first-hand how the app can help patients. The lack of apps that are easy to use and easy to use highlights a key market gap that this sector must fill.”
Consumers may be overlooking privacy concerns
Analysis shows that consumer ratings have little to do with app credibility.
Researchers then analyzed the privacy score they assigned to each app in relation to other measures such as the app’s user rating and popularity, measured by the number of downloads for which that data was available.
Researchers found that downloads correlated with privacy scores among 412 Android apps for which data was available. In other words, the more popular the app, the better the privacy and security measures, or vice versa.
However, user ratings of Android mental health apps did not correlate with privacy scores. Similarly, there was no correlation between App Store ratings and privacy scores for Apple apps. (The Apple App Store does not publish per-app downloads, according to research.) There was no statistically significant difference in privacy scores between Apple and Android apps.
The study authors suggest that the lack of correlation between privacy scores and consumer ratings indicates that consumers may not be aware of or value privacy features. increase.
Even more concerning, researchers found that nearly half (44%) of apps share users’ personal health information with third parties.
According to Torous, the fact that mental health apps share user data is nothing new, but he said consumers’ patience with such practices may be nearing the limits.
“We are seeing increasing evidence that most mental health apps are not good stewards of people’s personal or personal health data,” said Torous.
what you can do
Before signing up for a new mental health app or reviewing the apps they are already using, consumers visit mindapps.org to evaluate apps on aspects such as cost, functionality, privacy and clinical evidence. I can do it. According to Torous, there are 600 apps in the database, and more are growing.
Consumers may want to demand better from app developers than just doing their homework to existing apps.
“The fact that we are seeing less innovation, less evidence-based apps, more overlapping simplistic apps, and more privacy concerns in the market is rethinking how to ensure the next generation of apps are more useful. It suggests that we need to,” Torous said. “It’s still a possibility, but we’re still waiting.”