Category Archives: World Mental Health Day

World Mental Health Day – October 10, 2022

Monday, October 10th, is the annual World Mental Health Day as designated by the World Health Organization (WHO). The theme this year is “Making Mental Health and Well-Being for All a Global Priority,” and for everyone to be a voice about what needs to be done to promote, de-stigmafy, and facilitate the availability and delivery of mental health treatment.

Can Technology Help?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “technology has opened a new frontier in mental health support and data collection. Mobile devices like cell phones, smartphones, and tablets are giving the public, doctors, and researchers new ways to access help, monitor progress, and increase understanding of mental wellbeing.”

Mobile technology can help to facilitate access to treatment and support. For example, anyone with the ability to send a text message can contact a crisis center. New technology can also be packaged into an extremely sophisticated app for smartphones or tablets. Such apps might use the device’s built-in sensors to collect information on a user’s typical behavior patterns. If the app detects a change in behavior, it may provide a signal that help is needed before a crisis occurs. Some apps are stand-alone programs that promise to improve memory or thinking skills. Others help the user connect to a peer counselor or to a health care professional.

App development has generated a great deal of enthusiasm and possibilities However, there are thousands of mental health apps available for smartphones, and the number is growing every year. However, this new technology frontier includes a lot of uncertainty. There is very little industry regulation and very little information on app effectiveness, which can lead consumers to wonder which apps they should trust.

The NIMH Highlights A Number of Pros and Cons of Mental Health Apps

Experts believe that technology has a lot of potential for clients and clinicians alike. A few of the advantages of mobile care include:

  • Convenience: Treatment can take place anytime and anywhere (e.g., at home in the middle of the night or on a bus on the way to work) and may be ideal for those who have trouble with in-person appointments.
  • Anonymity: Clients can seek treatment options without involving other people.
  • An introduction to care: Technology may be a good first step for those who have avoided mental health care in the past.
  • Lower cost: Some apps are free or cost less than traditional care.
  • Service to more people: Technology can help mental health providers offer treatment to people in remote areas or to many people in times of sudden need (e.g., following a natural disaster or terror attack).
  • Interest: Some technologies might be more appealing than traditional treatment methods, which may encourage clients to continue therapy.
  • 24-hour service: Technology can provide round-the-clock monitoring or intervention support.
  • Consistency: Technology can offer the same treatment program to all users.
  • Support: Technology can complement traditional therapy by extending an in-person session, reinforcing new skills, and providing support and monitoring.
  • Objective data collection: Technology can quantitatively collect information such as location, movement, phone use, and other information.

This new era of mental health technology offers great opportunities but also raises a number of concerns. Tackling potential problems will be an important part of making sure new apps provide benefits without causing harm. That is why the mental health community and software developers are focusing on:

  • Effectiveness: The biggest concern with technological interventions is obtaining scientific evidence that they work and that they work as well as traditional methods.
  • For whom and for what: Another concern is understanding if apps work for all people and for all mental health conditions.
  • Privacy: Apps deal with very sensitive personal information so app makers need to be able to guarantee privacy for app users.
  • Guidance: There are no industry-wide standards to help consumers know if an app or other mobile technology is proven effective.
  • Regulation: The question of who will or should regulate mental health technology and the data it generates needs to be answered.
  • Overselling: There is some concern that if an app or program promises more than it delivers, consumers may turn away from other, more effective therapies.

Currently, there are no national standards for evaluating the effectiveness of the hundreds of mental health apps that are available. Unfortunately, most apps do not have peer-reviewed research to support their claims, and it is unlikely that every mental health app will go through a randomized, controlled research trial to test effectiveness. Consumers should be cautious about trusting a program.

NIMH offers some suggestions recommended to consumers when considering using a ‘mental health’ app.

  • Ask a trusted health care provider for a recommendation. Some larger providers may offer several apps and collect data on their use.
  • Check to see if the app offers recommendations for what to do if symptoms get worse or if there is a psychiatric emergency.
  • Decide if you want an app that is completely automated or an app that offers opportunities for contact with a trained person.
  • Search for information on the app developer. Can you find helpful information about his or her credentials and experience? 
  • Beware of misleading logos. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has not developed and does not endorse any apps. However, some app developers have unlawfully used the NIMH logo to market their products.
  • Search the PubMed database offered by National Library of Medicine. This resource contains articles on a wide range of research topics, including mental health app development.
  • If there is no information about a particular app, check to see if it is based on a treatment that has been tested. For example, research has shown that Internet-based cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is as effective as conventional CBT for disorders that respond well to CBT, like depression, anxiety, social phobia, and panic disorder.
  • Try it. If you’re interested in an app, test it for a few days and decide if it’s easy to use, holds your attention, and if you want to continue using it. An app is only effective if keeps users engaged for weeks or months.

It is clear that mental health needs more attention in the United States, as indicated by the recent polls about our deteriorating mental health. A new survey indicates that 90% of adults believe that there is a mental health crisis.1 A very recent poll by the American Psychiatric Association conveys that almost 80% agree that more attention to mental health by lawmakers is needed.2

  1. CNN Health/Kaiser Foundation. 90% of US adults say the United States is experiencing a mental health crisis
  2. Americans Believe Mental Health Is a Public Health Emergency That Needs More Attention from Lawmakers.