Earlier this year I wrote about a new report highlighting how comfortable many people are with using mental health apps to care for their mental wellbeing. Such digital forms of mental health provision are increasingly common, with sites such as Crisis Text Line and 7 Cups of Tea providing counseling services via both web and mobile channels.
A new study, from researchers at Brigham Young University, suggests that such apps can be just as effective for mental health as the numerous apps we rely on for our physical health.
The researchers were looking to better understand just what it is about health apps that contribute to changes in our behavior. They tracked 600 users of such apps, whether for improving their diet, changing their exercise levels or supporting their mental health.
Users of diet and fitness apps were successful in changing their behaviors in around 90% of instances, with most reporting improvements in diet and activity levels. The positive thing is that similar figures were reported for users of mental health apps. Again, 90% reported feeling more motivated, more confident and general feelings of mental and emotional health.
“Our findings show that mental and emotional health focused apps have the ability to positively change behavior,” the authors say. “This is great news for people looking for inexpensive, easily accessible resources to help combat mental and emotional health illness and challenges.”
The findings suggest that the burgeoning number of mental health apps are having a positive impact, and whilst they are not yet widely used by mainstream mental health practices, this could be something that will change.
The authors suggest that many people who struggle with mental health problems report feeling a lack of control, and the use of apps gives them that agency over their own mental wellbeing.
They hope that a better understanding of just what kind of impact and behavior change the first wave of mental health apps has on individuals can help not just the users themselves but also health providers who work in this field.
“These apps are engaging and if we can get people to use them more often, the potential certainly exists to help people change their behavior,” they say.