Mental health apps: Help is just within a pocket reach

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Chanika Assavarttirong, a 23 years old medical student originally from Bangkok, Thailand. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


Have you ever experienced a challenge when you are anxious of uncertainty, hopelessly helpless, traumatized by the past, compulsively obsessed, or addicted to something beyond control? Certainly yes, if you have been diagnosed with one of the characteristic mental illnesses mentioned. 

In the attempts to alleviate these, mental health applications have been developed and are increasingly adopted by patients with mental illnesses and health professionals. Mobile applications have the potential to effectively deliver evidence-based treatments (EBT) in the mental health personalized treatment, learning, and procedures2.

For instance, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) smart phone or tablet applications that include features such as self-reflection writing, mood tracking, fun activities, suicide prevention with crisis plan, goals setting, and peer supports demonstrated positive impacts on patients with depression and by psychiatrists who incorporated the applications into treatments. A number of users stated that these applications energize them to help themselves recover from depression and would highly recommend the applications to others1.

Similarly, the delivery of trauma-focused CBT (TF-CBT) through tablet applications satisfy children and parents as a child mental health treatment method. A pilot study conducted to compare the effects between the tablets TF-CBT for children with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) highlighted that the tablet apps which included teaching relaxation, therapeutic games, and activities to encourage emotional expressions possess comparable healing effects to a normal TF-CBT’s setting3. Under caretaker’s supervision, children enjoyed the applications and were highly engaged with the activities, and evaluated for big improvements in coping with PTSDs.

More free mobile applications such as Self-Help for Anxiety Management and Mindshift to mitigate anxiety botherations, an eating disorder app such as the Recovery Record, and nOCD for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are designed by mental health specialists and have received many positively affirmative reviews from their users. However, these applications do not directly solve the problem of the mental illness, may only serve as a therapeutic method away from the doctor’s office, and could be impractical in emergency situations4. Further issues could be due to a lack of patient confidentiality and an insufficient supervision in implementing the application.

Upon further EBT research and improvement, the method of mental health applications on smartphone has a high potential of increasing access to mental health care while minimizing the cost of doctor’s appointments. India, China, and the United States are reportedly the countries with the highest smartphone users, with approximately more than 100 million users in each country5. This would grant commodious accessibility to the mental health applications on the smartphone and could conveniently be integrated into daily life usage.

References

1 Stawarz K, Preist C, Tallon D, Wiles N, Coyle D. User Experience of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Apps for Depression: An Analysis of App Functionality and User Reviews. J Med Internet Res. 2018;20(6):e10120. Published 2018 Jun 6. doi:10.2196/10120.

2 Cucciare M, Weingardt K, & Villafranca S (2008). Using blended learning to implement evidence-based psychotherapies. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 15, 299–307. 10.1111/j.1468-2850.2008.00141.x

3 Davidson TM, Bunnell BE, Saunders BE, et al. Pilot Evaluation of a Tablet-Based Application to Improve Quality of Care in Child Mental Health Treatment. Behav Ther. 2019;50(2):367-379. doi:10.1016/j.beth.2018.07.005

4 Torous J, Nicholas J, Larsen ME, Firth J, Christensen H. Clinical review of user engagement with mental health smartphone apps: evidence, theory and improvements. Evid Based Ment Health. 2018;21(3):116-119. doi:10.1136/eb-2018-102891

5 O’Dea S. Smartphone users worldwide 2016-2021. Satista. 2018

About the author

Chanika Assavarttirong is 23 years old and originally from Bangkok, Thailand. She has completed her Bachelor’s degrees in Pharmaceutical Sciences (B.S.) and Education Sciences (B.A.) at University of California, Irvine, USA. As of present, she is a 2 nd year medical student of the advanced 4-year MD program at the Poznan University of Medical Sciences (PUMS), Center of Education in English, Poland. She is a member of AMSA at PUMS, and is particularly interested in psychiatry, and internal medicine
specialties. She enjoys reading and being constantly up to date of new discoveries in the world of medicine.

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