New Way Now

Seeking Virtual Help – There’s An App For That

October is National Depression & Mental Health Awareness Month, and organizations across the globe are promoting awareness and education. Encouraging individuals to seek help and for others to help destigmatize mental health. There’s been a growing trend of people turning to digital communication for guidance and support in the pandemic climate.

Now that all of us have had to become better consumers on the internet during this pandemic, the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) following information might be a useful guide for you or someone you know who is searching for help. This method would be a great way to familiarize those less confident with therapy to explore their options.

As the number of mental health apps available continues to rise, psychiatrists are likely to receive patients’ questions on these products’ risks and benefits. To help psychiatrists and other mental health professionals select apps, the APA has created the APA App Advisor—a website that guides visitors through questions to consider when evaluating mental health apps.

The APA App Advisor is an outgrowth of a mobile app evaluator put forth by an APA workgroup in 2017. In December 2019, APA brought together a diverse expert panel to assess the evaluation tool and consider ways to enhance it. The panel included psychiatrists and psychologists, social workers, nurse practitioners, medical students, and individuals with mental illnesses.

“We wanted to make sure a lot of different voices were heard,” said John Torous, M.D., director of the Digital Psychiatry Division at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and chair of the expert panel, told Psychiatric News.

The panel recommended the following questions as a good “jumping off” point when considering any mental health app:

  • On which platforms/operating systems does the app work? Does it also work on a desktop computer?
  • Has the app been updated in the last 180 days?
  • Is there a transparent privacy policy that is clear and accessible before use?
  • Does the app collect, use, and/or transmit sensitive data? If yes, does it claim to do so securely?
  • Is there evidence of specific benefits from academic institutions, end-user feedback, or research studies?
  • Does the app have a clinical/recovery foundation relevant to your intended use?
  • Does the app seem easy to use?
  • Can data be easily shared and interpreted consistently with the stated purpose of the app?

The APA App Advisor features written and video tutorials on the evaluation tool, including some basics on navigating it. It also includes sample evaluations of 11 popular mental health and well-being apps conducted by panel members.

Torous emphasized that APA is not endorsing any of these apps by evaluating them. “These evaluations are aimed at giving psychiatrists a sense of what to look for when reviewing an app so they can make the most informed decision for their patient and practice,” he added.

For related news, see the Psychiatric Services article “Smartphone Apps for College Mental Health: A Concern for Privacy and Quality of Current Offerings.”

These digital platforms offer flexible, accessible, and easy-to-use alternatives to seek help when typically one of the biggest barriers to getting help is the initial action step to reach out. So, please utilize these tools for yourself or encourage someone you know to give them a try — we’re all in this together!