Are Mental Health Apps Worthwhile?

Among the hundreds of thousands of apps available for health and fitness, among many others, millions of us have downloaded mental health apps for everything from breathing exercises to guided meditation.

However, a recent analysis now suggests that almost everyone gives up on such apps in just two weeks.

Amit Baumel (2019), at the University of Haifa in Israel and his colleagues, analysed the use of 93 popular mental health apps.

The data suggests that, after 15 days, more than 94% of users had stopped opening their apps.

Baumel and colleagues only studied apps that are available in English and that have been installed at least 10,000 times via the Google Play store.

App use differed depending on the kind of support provided.

On any given day, just over 4% of individuals who have downloaded mindfulness or meditation apps will use them. However this figure is 17% among those who have installed peer-support apps, which enable individuals to talk to someone who may be experiencing similar issues.

The team did not reveal which apps were included in the analysis, but the findings raise questions over how useful mental health apps are.

It is currently unknown how often an individual needs to use such apps for them to be effective.

Baumel and colleagues study confirms what the clinical community has known for a long time: a lot of individuals abandon these apps.

However, it should be noted that a low engagement rate does not necessarily mean mental health apps do not work – it could be an indication of how curious we are about these apps, and how easy it is to download them.

References

Baumel, A., Muench, F., Edan, S. & Kane, J.M. (2019) Objective User Engagement With Mental Health Apps: Systematic Search and Panel-Based Usage Analysis. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 21(9), e14567. https://www.jmir.org/2019/9/e14567/.

New Scientist. (2019) People Quickly Abandon Mental Health Apps. New Scientist. 16 November 2019, pp.14.

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