Are mental health apps really that helpful? - Sovereign Health Group
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04-20-16 Category: Advocacy, Mental Health, Treatment

mental health apps

We live in a tech-savvy world where our cell phones are becoming out third appendage and we are using technology to get through life instead of our street smarts. Most drivers in the United States rely on GPS navigation systems and, without these technological advances, we might not have a clue as to which freeway to exit or street to turn on. These technological advances are quite new and have been transforming the world for the good and the bad.

Technology has also overtaken the medicine and mental health world. Many providers are able to use digital apps to look up clinical information instead of lugging around back-breaking textbooks. However, medical apps for patients are where the shortcomings are. There are thousands of mental health apps available on smartphones that aim to treat mental illness, but very few are evidence-based, and apps should never replace an in-person mental health professional but rather be an adjunct to therapy.

Working to authenticate the apps

Queensland University of Technology has been working on the development of apps for young people with mental illness, but researchers have discovered that the majority of apps are not evidence-based. Madhavan Mani, a Ph.D. student at QUT’s School of Psychology and Counselling, found more than 700 available “mindfulness” apps, but only 23 of them met the basic rating scale to even be reviewed. As a result of this study, Australian researchers are working hard to authenticate and verify these apps and are calling for a regulatory body that can assure these e-tools are based on evidence.

Anyone can download an app to improve their mental health, even if the app is not based on real research and medicine. The app developers can technically develop anything they want and market it to consumers. Without a regulatory body, this will continue. Therefore, it is important for consumers to research the app, read the reviews, investigate whether it is based on evidence-based medicine and consult with their clinicians to see if it is recommended.

An adjunct to lifestyle changes and treatment

Many clinicians use apps themselves and can recommend certain mental health apps. It is also important to keep in mind that mental health apps should not replace counseling or medication. It is true that seeking help for mental health in the United States is difficult due to insurance and cost, and this is one of the reasons why mental health apps are becoming so popular. However, a mental health app will not treat your depression or schizophrenia. Mental health apps have been shown to improve an individual’s mental health but as an adjunct to lifestyle changes and treatment.

The Sovereign Health Group is a leading behavioral health care provider with locations across the United States that treat people with addiction, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. Sovereign Health of California also treats eating disorders for women in our San Clemente location and for adolescent girls in our Rancho San Diego locations. For more information about our evidence-based treatments, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at the Sovereign Health Group and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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