Why Users Should Be Wary of Mental Health Apps

Let’s face it: the last few years have been difficult for everyone. We’ve endured a pandemic. We’ve experienced the loneliness and isolation of lockdowns. We’ve faced empty store shelves and skyrocketing prices. We are confronted with the lingering threat of a global recession. Yes, our world today is fraught with anxiety and uncertainty. It’s little wonder, then, that the need for affordable, accessible, and high-quality mental healthcare is perhaps greater than it has ever been before.

Why Users Should Be Wary of Mental Health Apps

It’s also unsurprising that, now more than ever, people are looking to their
smartphones, tablets, and PCs to secure the mental healthcare they need.
Indeed, mental health apps have surged in popularity in recent years, but do they really live up to the hype? Unfortunately, in some cases, the answer is no. In fact, there are some important issues you should be aware of before you download that mental health app you’ve heard so much about. This article explores the reasons why existing and prospective users should be wary of mental health apps.

Factors Driving the Popularity of Mental Health Apps

It’s easy to understand why mental health apps have become so popular in recent years. They fulfil a critically important need. For far too many segments of the population, quality mental health care is simply out of reach. For instance, seniors, persons with disabilities, or people who are low income may lack mental health insurance coverage and may turn to apps as an affordable alternative.

This can be highly problematic, though, as few apps designed for the general public are capable of providing the kind of intensive, evidence-based care that many need, particularly when they are facing extreme financial hardship, chronic illness, or drug or alcohol dependency.

Privacy Concerns

When it comes to your medical care, there are few things more important than the issue of privacy. This issue is perhaps even more of a concern when it comes to your mental healthcare. After all, if you want to receive the best care, then you must have the freedom and security to be open and honest with your counselor. However, many mental health apps simply cannot offer the level of data security you would want for your medical records.

In fact, many mental health apps actually mine your data for commercial and research purposes. This means that your information may be sold to product development teams or retail enterprises. In other words, you are likely to have very little insight into how your data is collected and very little control over how it is used.

The Limitations of Mental Health Apps

Privacy concerns are not the only significant challenges associated with mental health apps. There is also the simple reality that apps are limited in their capacity to address the root causes of most users’ mental distress. For instance, if you are faced with a toxic work culture, even the most advanced technologies will not cure it. This is why it is incumbent on employers and employees alike not to rely on trendy technology to address more pernicious and pervasive issues.

Employees may need more than a subscription to a relaxation and meditation website to help them deal with workplace stressors. They may need employer-provided individual and even group counseling to rehabilitate both their work and personal lives.

Viable Alternatives

Although there can be important concerns in the use of mental health apps created for the general public, that does not mean that all virtual mental healthcare is ineffective, unsecured, or dangerous. In fact, online mental health counseling can be an ideal option for those who want a convenient and cost-effective alternative to traditional, in-person care. The key, however, is to do your homework and be discriminating in your choice of care providers. Ensure that you are working
with a clinician who is licensed and accredited.

Consider, as well, the technology they provide and the data security practices they embrace. Ideally, every counseling session would be held on a secure portal. Likewise, any data or messages shared between you and your care team should be confined to that secure portal. Additionally, your care team should be highly transparent in regard to how your personal information will be gathered, stored, used, and shared.

The Takeaway

Mental health apps promise to provide users with affordable, accessible, and high-quality mental healthcare. They were designed to meet a vast and growing need in these turbulent times. Unfortunately, however, mental health apps are not always what they are cracked up to be. Privacy concerns are ubiquitous, as many mental health apps are designed to mine, store, and sell user information for research and commercial purposes.

In addition, mental health apps are simply not created to address severe mental health challenges, such as substance dependency. For many in need of convenient and cost-effective mental health services, online counseling conducted on a secure platform with a licensed professional may be a far better alternative.

Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer passionate about workplace equity, and whose published works cover sociology, politics, business, education, health, and more.