Navigating the mental health app market
The app market is full of apps claiming to improve or manage our mental health, so how do you find the one that suits your employees’, and your company’s, needs? If you’re buying in a mental health app for your organisation, to see the results you want ask yourself some questions before you buy.
The rise of the mental health app
Before I identify the questions you need to ask yourself, lets briefly look at the history of mental health apps. The use of mental health workbooks as a form of therapy (known as bibliotherapy) has been around for almost as long as counselling and other forms of talking therapies. These workbooks mirror what’s covered in a typical therapy session, with each chapter an exercise the user must complete. The first online tools for mental health were simply websites developed from these mental health workbooks.
Over time, these early websites became more interactive and personalised, giving rise to the field of computerised therapies. More recently, these have taken the form of mobile apps for mental health. While the principles remain the same, the best apps are no longer simple electronic versions of books, but fully responsive experiences that respond to the user’s needs.
Six questions to ask when buying a mental health app
When purchasing any technological solution for your employees, it’s important you’re clear on what you aim to achieve with it. When surveying the mental health app market, ask yourself these six questions.
- What is the aim of the app?
Most apps use mindfulness-based methods to build resilience and help prevent mental health conditions. Other more reactive apps provide specific interventions for conditions like insomnia, anxiety and depression. Do you want a preventative app that may be a perk for your workforce, or do you want an app that goes beyond prevention and includes early detection and intervention? Many people are reluctant to seek help for mental health problems, so you may want to consider the benefits of an app that has intervention
- What’s the evidence behind the intervention?
In the same way that there are many self-help books out there that are not at all helpful, the market is full of apps claiming to help with mental health problems without evidence to their effectiveness. The type of intervention with the most evidence at present, and the only one recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)’s computerised cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It’s important to establish what kind of evidence base exists for the effectiveness of the app you’re considering. Check the accompanying publicity materials and do your research. If you can’t find any credible evidence, be sceptical.
- Is the data secure?
You need to ensure your staff’s data is kept securely and confidentially. Make sure the app is secure and complies with information governance guidance and the Data Protection Act.
- What picture can I get from the data?
Do you want to receive usage reports on an organisation-wide scale? If so, look for an app with an information management system that gives you actionable data while protecting the anonymity of your employees. For example, using an app that can identify the stressors affecting your employees means you can start to take action to minimise these.
- Will it promote help-seeking behaviour?
Is the app able to detect any employees that need extra help? And will it encourage them to seek help early? This could make it more likely that your people get help to manage their condition before they become unwell or a crisis situation develops.
- Can the app be integrated?
Does the app integrate with other wellbeing resources you already make available to your employees? For instance, can it be integrated with your employee assistance programme (EAP)?
Technology offers some great opportunities to help you empower your staff to improve and manage their mental health. So it’s important you familiarise yourself with what’s out there and what’s coming down the pipeline. When considering buying in any mental health app, look for the one that’s the right fit for your organisation and your employees.