There’s an App for That – Smartphone Applications for the Treatment of Mental Health Problems
Instagram, LinkedIn and Snapchat are probably some of the most frequently used Apps in western cultures. But if you think that apps are only here for fun, business and posting pictures that can only be opened once, you may be wrong.
Since 2006, when the first apps were created, many have followed. Including apps that aim to improve our health and well-being. There are apps that serve as fitness guides, help us to eat healthy, convince us to quit smoking or teach us how to meditate.
Not surprisingly, they did not stop here. During the past few years many apps have been designed for people who suffer from psychiatric disorders. These apps aim at treating mental health disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and anxiety and can be used as stand-alone self-help programs or in combination with a classic psychotherapy.
But do they really work? What are possible advantages and why might they help us? How can clinical psychologists profit from these apps? These and more questions are addressed in an extensive review by Donker et al. (2013) and the answers are briefly summarised below.
What are possible advantages and why might they help us?
There are many different reasons why mental health apps are necessary. First, a lot of people on this planet own a smartphone. Having a therapist on an iPhone certainly improves treatment accessibility around the world. Second, classic psychotherapy is very expensive and sometimes patients are on a waiting list because there are not enough psychotherapists available. Apps are always ready to go and they come with a heavily reduced cost. Third, an app is always by your side. Imagine someone who suffers from panic attacks. Usually, a therapist is not around if panic attacks happen and the patient is forced to endure this situation by himself. Apps however are always at hand and could offer help during the panic attack. Last but not least, psychotherapy and psychiatric disorders are still stigmatized and some people don’t seek help because of that. Using a smartphone application is anonymous and no one needs to know.
Do they work?
In general, studies that were included in the review by Donker et al. (2013) showed promising results and seem to have the potential to be effective. Various apps were able to reduce depressive symptoms, stress, anxiety and substance use. However, these results need to be taken with precaution. Many studies had only few participants and did not report on long-term efficacy. Much more research will be necessary to develop and test evidence-based programs.
Can I see for myself?
Yes, you can. Some of these apps are publically available and not liable for costs.
- MoodHacker (Depression): http://www.orcasinc.com/products/moodhacker/
- PTSD Coach (PTSD): https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=is.vertical.ptsdcoach&hl=de
Author: Eva-Maria Stauffer
Reference: Donker, T., Petrie, K., Proudfoot, J., Clarke, J., Birch, M. R., & Christensen, H. (2013). Smartphones for smarter delivery of mental health programs: a systematic review. Journal of medical Internet research, 15(11).