It’d not be wrong to call the present generation to be a technology-driven generation. Most of us use our smartphones to chat with our loved ones, check our email or as a crutch when we’re bored. Our Smartphones are full of mindless entertainment apps but sometimes these apps could be mindful as well. There are better ways available to harness the power of our screens.
Recently, there has been a surge of interest, research and development in mental health apps and online programs — in a world where nearly 19 percent of U.S. adults are affected by some kind of mental illness. While experts don’t recommend seeking help solely online, there has been some research suggesting there is value in these types of programs, especially when used as a supplement to in-person therapy.
New research has suggested that mobile phone apps could not only be effective for our physical health but also our mental health, finding that those who used them reported a higher level of emotional wellness. Carried out by Brigham Young University health science researchers, the group set out to identify what it is about health apps that influence users’ behaviour.
The research looked at 600 people across three studies, which looked at diet, physical activity or mental health apps. Participants had all used an app in the past six months and were surveyed on the likeability of the apps, their engagement, and any behaviour changes. The team were unsurprised to find that the diet and fitness apps had a positive effect on users, with more than 90% reporting an increase in their desire and motivation to eat healthy and be physically active.
However, they did not expect to find that 90% of those that used a mental and emotional health app also reported a positive change in their behaviour, including increased and improved motivation, confidence, intention and attitudes about being mentally and emotionally healthy.
Though using an app to tackle mental and emotional health problems are not traditional treatment, the findings suggest that they could be a worthwhile and effective tool. Previous research has shown that people struggling with mental and emotional health problems can feel like they lack control, and taking action with an app could help this, although some problems need to be addressed by a medical health professional.
Five of the best mental health apps
Catch It: helps you capture and understand your mood using a journal. Free on the App Store and Google Play.
Chill Panda: helps you relax by measuring heart rate and suggesting breathing techniques and light exercises. Free on the App Store and Google Play.
Cove: creates music that reflects your emotional state. Free on the App Store.
Elefriends: an online community from Mind. Free on the App Store and Google Play.
SilverCloud: an online course to help manage stress and depression. Available via NHS referral.
These apps are engaging and if people use them more often, they have the potential to change people’s behaviour. It is important to choose the right app, heres a guideline to that.
How to choose the right app
- Look for apps with input from a mental health practitioner.
- Check that your personal data is held in accordance with data protection laws.
- Ask if the app is approved by a regulatory body, for example, the US Food and Drug Administration.
- Ask whether the app has undergone any trials to demonstrate its clinical effectiveness.
- If the app is for an internet forum, check for moderators and posting guidelines
The team now hopes to continue their research in this area by looking into what kinds of apps are most effective at improving mental and emotional wellness. A better understanding of how apps work to positively change behaviour can not only help on an individual level, but can also help health providers provide better treatment.