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Mental health apps full of scientific language, but lack scientific evidence

Mental health apps full of scientific language, but lack scientific evidence

04 September | 0 Comments | By Arizona Mental Health Helpline Team

With a rise in the use of modern tech alternatives or apps and to beat the competition in the field of mental health apps, the creators of these apps are overemphasizing their effectiveness in the domain of mental health treatment. However, a majority of these apps lack any scientific evidence or peer-reviewed clinical studies to substantiate their claims, suggested a study published in the journal Nature Digital Medicine.

Since long, apps and artificial intelligence (AI) enabled digital tools to have been welcomed as the much sought after solution in the field of mental health but it has not yet been established if these apps actually measure up to the expectations of the users or of mental health treatment standards.

Lack of evidence-based support

The study authors recognized around 1,435 mental health apps in stores like iTunes and Google Play. Of these, they investigated the claims of 73 mental health apps pertaining to anxiety, depression, self-harm, substance abuse, and schizophrenia. They found that 64 percent of these apps claimed to have effectively diagnosed a mental health condition, improved symptoms, or aided self-management. The claims were supported by the frequent use of scientific language in 44 percent of the apps.

On the other hand, a design or development centering a real-world experience was described by only 14 percent of the apps, however, none of them cited reference certification or accreditation processes. Merely 2 apps offered primary evidence of low quality from a study using the actual app and only 1 app included a reference to the published work.

A majority of the mental health apps provided support through the use of scientific language, however, none described any high-quality evidence. The researchers also noted that though there may be a plethora of reviews attesting to consumer satisfaction on these mobile health apps, the fact that they do not have any evidence might mean that they contain deleterious content.

An unregulated domain

Over the last few years, the Silicon Valley has invested heavily in devising mental health solutions and has come up with AI-enhanced monitors, chatbots, and even robots to help people deal with multiple ailments like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Moreover, these applications are also available on social media platforms.

However, despite all the mental health benefits offered by these apps and counseling bots, it is noteworthy that there are no regulations. Presently, even the FDA does not monitor their outcomes or claims as it does for medical devices.

Limitations of mental health apps

In the meantime, many experts believe that this field is in need of extensive psychological research. Some believe that mental health apps are putting human communication in jeopardy and are a poor replacement for one-on-one counseling which is usually considered an advanced form of treatment.

In addition, these mental health apps also raise privacy concerns. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) established that out of 24 famous medicine-related Android apps, 19 shared their user data with third and fourth parties for information regarding medical concerns and even whether the user was pregnant or a smoker.

Mental health sector needs extensive support

The field of mental health needs extensive support. With only one mental health professional per 1,000 patients, as reported by the National Mental Health Association, the situation looks grim. After all, one cannot deny the fact that as many as every fifth American experiences a mental health disorder in a given year, of which only 41 percent receive treatment.

The supporters of digital health interventions state that these applications offer affordable alternatives to those who do not have access to or can’t afford mental health services. Companies like Woebot emphasize that these apps are not serving as a replacement, but only aiding mental health treatment. Yet, it is not clear whether the support these apps offer is authentic and backed by scientific evidence. Maybe, additional research can throw some light on this quandary.

Road to recovery

Mental disorders can be overwhelming and if left untreated, they can adversely impact an individual’s professional, social, and personal life. While mental health apps can help a user identify and understand their symptoms, it is best to seek the advice of a licensed mental health practitioner for proper screening and treatment of a mental disorder.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental illness and is looking for mental health treatment centers, then get in touch with the Arizona Mental Health Helpline. Our team of medical experts will offer you all the required assistance to get admitted to a customized mental health treatment program. Call our 24/7 helpline 866-606-7791 or chat online with our counselor for further assistance.

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