Smart(phone) apps for mental health and how to choose them wisely

by Anna Suarez @ 26.03.2018

Smart(phone) apps for mental health and how to choose them wisely

Mobile apps claim to help in coping with mental health problems, but few have been thoroughly tested. How to pick the safe one among thousands on offer?

From cooking to paying bills to taking care of your health, if you have any question, there is a mobile app to answer it. Will this answer be correct? That’s a different story. While it would be unfortunate to mess up a dinner using a bad app, low quality mental health application could be potentially dangerous.

While there are over 10,000 mental health apps, few are developed by mental healthcare professionals, and even fewer are tested for their safety and efficiency. The main reason is the gap between research and business. The skillful developers of mobile applications may be able to build a catchy game or tracker, but they usually lack scientific background. At the same time mental healthcare professionals rarely have enough time or skills to commercialize their ideas. However, this doesn’t stop either developers or any other interested parties from creating mHealth solutions for mental health, which are catching popularity as self-help products.

In order to protect both patients, and clinicians from using potentially harmful apps, such solutions should be developed in the team of professionals of various backgrounds who can ensure both technical and medical quality of the mobile application. Understandably, it is hard to check background of thousands of apps on the market. For developers there is an option of going through the health application validation process using, for example, pipeline developed by Finnish startup Qvalidi because not everyone needs to take the long road of medical device certification. For users it’s helpful to look at organizations like PsyberGuide or ORCHA which review mobile health applications. Additionally, as mental health field is particularly sensitive, American Psychiatric Association has suggested an App Evaluation Model, consisting of five steps to ensure the choice of high-quality solution for your mental health.

In our following series of blog posts we will be covering these five steps, making them easy to understand and follow. Stay tuned and remember: when it comes to your health, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Note: at Triumf we take the question of safety and quality very seriously. Three trained psychologists participate in development of the app for mental health support of chronically ill children. The content is based on validated psychological and pedagogical theories. The application will go through clinical trials in 2018. Additionally, we are always happy to answer any questions about our solution via Facebook page, Twitter or email.