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How Mental Health Apps Are Messing With Our Heads

How Mental Health Apps Are Messing With Our Heads by Beth Skwarecki (Vitals)
Even before you download an app to help you meditate, or to manage your depression, it’s speaking to you. Apps’ marketing often implies that everyday stresses should be seen as mental health issues, and that you’re on your own (with the help of the app, of course) to fix whatever is wrong with you.
Research on 61 apps that were reviewed in a recent study led by Lisa Parker of the University of Sydney. The post from Lifehacker:

Even before you download an app to help you meditate, or to manage your depression, it’s speaking to you. Apps’ marketing often implies that everyday stresses should be seen as mental health issues, and that you’re on your own (with the help of the app, of course) to fix whatever is wrong with you.

I’ve been meditating for some time now. I started with the Headspace app, but as the post indicates, the key component of this work is to keep you hooked, and paying. I then moved to the Insight Timer, which I like, but they include a “reminder” of how many days in a row you have been successful. This makes me feel bad when I miss a day. 🙂

Apps also want you interacting with them a lot. Maybe there are reminders every day (or several times a day) to check in. Maybe they end up making you feel bad for not sticking with your program. Even if an app is helpful, it may not be worth all of the time and effort that it requires.

We also need to take into account the privacy policies and what these apps may be saying, or sharing, about us.

Unfortunately, none of these are easy tasks. How do you know what’s worth worrying about in a privacy policy? Do you really know if the app maker is trustworthy? And by the way, almost none of the apps you can download have any evidence base to tell whether they work.

If you need an app like this…that’s not a bad thing. Pick one that just helps with your desired goal. Also make sure you’re social and talk to humans, or your therapist (if appropriate).

If you must use an app, Parker says, it helps to know about the messages they’re sending, so you can spot them and question them rather than letting them seep in and make you feel discouraged. She recommends watching out for privacy issues, ad tracking, or subscriptions that you’ll forget to cancel. Decide what you’re trying to get out of the app—say, meditation tracks to help you relax—and choose an app that provides just that.

The American Psychiatric Association has a guide to evaluating mental health apps, but it’s made for therapists and is a bit vague. You’re supposed to do background research on whether the company is one you’re comfortable doing business with; pore through the privacy policy; determine whether there’s any evidence it will actually work; and then consider whether it’s easy to use and whether you can share data from patient to therapist.

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