How can mental health apps help?
Mental health apps can be used in many ways, including mood, medication, and sleep tracking. There are mental health apps that you can use to help yourself, such as breathing exercises and apps that provide soothing sounds to help you relax. Mental health apps can also be used to support the activities you are working on during treatment.
Some apps can be used to communicate with and send updates to your care team. These apps may also provide a way to practice skills or complete homework between appointments.
Mental health apps can be thought of as vitamins for mental health care. In other words, the app can supplement care, but not replace it. Because the app is complementary, it is not strictly regulated, and FDA approval does not mean the app is of high quality.
What should I look for in mental health apps?
In the fast-paced world of technology, it can be difficult to choose from the thousands of mental health apps on the market. Instead of picking apps based on popularity, look for apps that meet your specific mental health needs. “You want to be a picky consumer and you want to find an app that is safe and protects your data,” Torous said. Most mental health apps are considered “wellness” tools, so they don’t have to follow HIPAA privacy standards. HIPAA is a set of federal standards aimed at protecting an individual’s medical records and includes mental health information.
If an app isn’t required to follow HIPAA standards, “these privacy rules are completely out of the question. In many cases, apps can do whatever they want with personal data,” warns Torous. When choosing an app, make sure it’s evidence-based. “Evidence-based” means that there is research to back up what the app does or claims to do. If you find an app you trust and find useful, try it out and see if it appeals to you. You want to find an app that you can actually keep using.
Where should I start looking for mental health apps?
Start with VA’s Mental Health App. Taurus says he often recommends the VA mental health app to his clients because it is “completely free, evidence-based, engaging, and well-tested.”
To help you find useful and safe mental health apps, Torous and his team created the free website mindapps.org. This website offers multiple search options. For example, if you search for apps based on privacy, cost, or evidence base, the website displays a list of apps that meet those criteria.
MINDapps is based on the American Psychiatric Association’s app rating model. The website includes a checklist of information to review when choosing an app, and videos to help you understand where to start.
You can also ask your healthcare professional if they have any recommendations for mental health apps. It helps you think about what kind of app best suits your needs.
If you are supporting a veteran in crisis or a loved one in crisis, call 988 and press 1 for immediate assistance or online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/chat chat with me.