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Assessing and Recommending Mental Health Apps

02 October 2018 - Julia Reynolds

There are many thousands of mental health apps available – the question is where to start and how to select them?

Where to begin

When considering apps to improve my own health and wellbeing or to assist clients in my practice, I want to know whether the app is likely to be safe, effective and engaging to use. Privacy and data security are also important. Relatively few apps provide good information about what information they collect and what they do with the information. Some have no privacy policy and some have privacy policies that are inaccessible or incomplete.

Apps come and go very quickly and many are of questionable quality, When I am looking for an app, I first pick out some apps that seem credible and worth investing further time in examining. Finding a mental health app that works.

Portals can help

Online portals can be good places to start, especially at the initial screening stage. Portals are directory sites that set quality criteria and only list apps that meet those criteria. Different portals use different criteria and these are usually explained on the “about” page of the site.

Community-facing portals

Some portals are designed for the general public to use such as:

  • the United Kingdom’s NHS Apps Library for general health apps
  • Australia has some specialist mental health portals for members of the public, including:
    • the Head to Health site - this lists apps (and other online mental health resources, funded by government or that contain government content
    • Reachout site’s Tools and Apps page which lists apps that have been professionally reviewed and can be used and recommended with confidence

There are also two app portals based in the USA that may be of particular interest to clinicians:

  • PsyberGuide is designed for the general public but is helpful to clinicians because, for each app, PsyberGuide provides information about its credibility, user experience and transparency (whether it provides information about data security and privacy)
  • addresses similar areas for each app and incorporates additional information about qualities that may interest clinicians (such as therapeutic persuasiveness and alliance) and provides “notes to clinicians” which suggest how each app might be used in therapy.

Use these sites to put together an initial list of potential apps that interest you, then have some fun putting them through their paces!

Julia Reynolds
Julia Reynolds

Julia Reynolds MPsych(Clin), MAPS, is Clinical Psychologist and e-hub Clinical Services Manager, Centre for Mental Health Research, ANU.

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