Mental Health 1As companies expand their employee wellness programs to address mental health, there is increased focus on how mobile apps can serve as useful tools. Although more than 1,000 mental health apps exist, a recent study suggests these apps may not be as useful as one might think.

One in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness each year. That’s about 43.8 million people. In years past, some people may have sought help through their physician or counselor. Others may not have sought help at all, leaving issues unaddressed. Today, it is easy to get information on nearly every medical condition, and with 77% of U.S. adults having a smartphone, that information is at their fingertips.

A look in a commercial app store reveals that mental health apps claim to reduce anxiety, increase positive emotions, help identify and monitor negative thought patterns to assist with depression, and address other wide-ranging mental health ailments. While these apps may have good intentions, the majority of the ones reviewed in the study did not provide evidence or peer-reviewed studies to back up their claims.

The study examined 1,435 mental health apps available in app stores and narrowed the final analysis down to 73 apps. Of those apps that remained, 64% claimed to be able to diagnose a mental health conditions or help improve symptoms; however, only two of the apps provided evidence from any study to support those claims.

Any type of health app, whether it provides mental or physical advice, should have supporting information that shows it has an accredited or certified process. Particularly when thinking of mental health, it is important to ensure that rigorous academic testing has been done. This is especially vital in clinical applications where the person using the app will be unsupervised by a professional.

The study published a number of other interesting findings, including:

  • 38% of the descriptions in the app stores used wording related to effectiveness of the apps, but less than 3% provided evidence to match those claims
  • Only one app included a citation to published literature
  • 14% described lived experience in their design or development
  • None of the apps referenced certification or accreditation processes, such as app libraries

Corporate Wellness Takeaway

The good news is that employee mental health and the need to address it is gaining more attention as companies incorporate mental health support in wellness programs. However, following incorrect or unproven advice from apps creates risks for both the employee and the company. Despite the potential benefits of a do-it-yourself approach to mental health, mobile apps still need to be further studied, developed, and have proven results before they are considered as a tool in a corporate wellness program.

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