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Home / Health / Mental health apps use scientific language, but do they actually work?

Mental health apps use scientific language, but do they actually work?

Many mental health apps may overestimate their effectiveness.

Research published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Digital Medicine examined 73 high-level mental health apps found when searching iTunes

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and Google Play

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stores apps for anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, self-harm and substance use.

"These things," said John Torous, a co-author of the study and a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told MarketWatch.

"You make a certain leap in faith by using some of these things. & # 39;

1; John Torous, a psychiatrist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

The study found that 64% of apps made statements about the effectiveness of mental health assessment or mood, symptoms, or self-management effectiveness, and 44% used scientific language to substantiate these claims. However, only 53% of the outlined scientific methods were linked to evidence in the scientific literature.

"Scientific language was the most frequently cited form of support for the use of mental health apps; however, high quality evidence is often not described. "The authors of the study wrote.

Indeed, the "best evidence" these apps offer comes from the two apps (2.7%) that describe "direct evidence for the app" and an app (1.4%) that "the scientific Literature citation provided, "she added.

When people turn to psychological treatments that are not evidence-based or have proven to be effective, Torous said it was not possible to receive the care they should or should receive "Data privacy concerns about the disclosure or disclosure of their data" are also a major risk.

"Scientific language was the most widely used form of support for using apps for mental health Health."

"They are sort of relying on these digital health tools, which we know very little about and often have good intentions, but they mirror someone else's experiences of mental health," said Torous.

They become an unintended research topic, "he said. "You run the risk of trying this treatment."

"There is a potential for apps to have the opposite effect as they intend," said Vaile Wright, Director of Research and Special Projects at the American Psychological Association, who was not involved in the present study. "They could reinforce your symptoms. They could generally make you feel worse.

Previous research has cast a skeptical note on the extensive catalog of mental health apps. For example, an analysis of 700 mindfulness-based apps found that only 4% offered "mindfulness training and education," and another study on bipolar disorder showed that their content was "generally not in line with practice guidelines or self-management principles A review of the mobile mental health apps in 2018 found that a majority of currently available apps have no clinically validated evidence of their effectiveness.

"There is a potential for apps to have the opposite effect on what they do." He intends to do so. & # 39;

– Vaile Wright, Director of Research and Special Projects at the American Psychological Association

Torous valued the Department of Veteran Affairs health apps portfolio, which included mood enhancement and PTSD management apps, and Intellicare, an app suite from Northwestern University, part of a National Institutes of Health funded research study , (He has no connection to either program.)

It's difficult to create a static list of mental health apps that people should use because of the "dynamic landscape" in the game, Torous said. The new research on this topic is evolving as the apps themselves change, he added.

"What we can do," he said, "gives people a framework to make informed decisions." Here are some guidelines:

Observe Privacy Policy

Even checking the existence of a privacy policy "can very quickly eliminate very many very bad apps," said Torous. "If you can not find it, this is a pretty big red flag." Find out how the app can collect, store and share your data, Wright said. You can usually find this information on the app's website or in the user agreement. Please read it carefully.

Search Evidence

Look for mental health apps that are reported to have performed independent peer-reviewed or randomized controlled trials of the actual app Wright. Take note of who financed this research – especially if it is the app company itself – and watch out for unnecessary phrasing. An app description may validly research to aid the benefits of meditation, but does research suggest that this particular meditation app will work?

Be wary of claims that seem too good to be true, Wright added, saying it will cure your PTSD "or a similarly daring statement.

Look for independent reviews

Others may already have reviewed the mental health app of their choice, and practicing psychologists who are members of the American Psychological Association recently reviewed the meditation and mindfulness apps Headspace, Calm, and Stop, Breathe & Think. [19659002] The APA panel rated the apps on four different criteria from "0" to "5": privacy / security, app evidence base, cost / business model, and user feedback Calm received "3" for privacy / security and costs / Business model, "2" for the evidence base for the app and "5" for user feedback Stop, Breathe & Think received "2" for the evidence for the app, "3" for privacy / security, "4" for cost / business model and "5" for user feedback. Headspace received a rating of "4" in all categories, except for user feedback (which received a top rating of "5").

A headspace spokeswoman told MarketWatch that the company has a "seven-member science in the house" team. She also referred to peer review research in the journal Mindfulness. (Under the "conflict of interest" section of the paper, it is noted that the four authors were employed by Headspace at the time this study was conducted.) The spokeswoman said that several studies had shown that Headspace had "positive results," including a reduction of Stress, improved focus, increased compassion and decreased aggression.

A spokeswoman for Stop, Breathe & Think said the app was "the result of nearly two decades of direct work with youth in the field". She added that the app team recently worked with the team, Nicholas Schork, a professor at the not-for-profit Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, and would soon be releasing a large, peer-reviewed study showing the "significant impact," which has a regular use of Stop, Breathe & Think on the decrease of anxiety. [19659002] And Calm said in a statement provided by a spokeswoman that the app had developed studies with Arizona State University professor and Calm science consultant, Jennifer Huberty, to learn more than four years. They examined the feasibility and effectiveness of the app for different populations, she said, also in a forthcoming study on blood cancer patients, which is to be published in the publication Formative Research of the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Preliminary results have shown that participants who used the Calm app reported small effects on anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, physical health, symptom burden, and fatigue. "Good science takes time, and it's no surprise that there is little literature on the impact of these randomized controlled trial apps. We are happy to continue to prove the evidence of peace on different results and population figures.

Consider how easy it is to use

. Many people who download these apps will not do so, Torous said, or just use them once or twice. "People are excited about downloading an app, but it's really hard to really use and stick to it," he said. Make sure the app is suitable for your particular lifestyle, he said. The American Psychiatric Association app assessment model asks if the app requires an active Internet connection and what platforms it works on.

You should not replace professional care.

Apps are not a substitute for therapy. However, Torous sees the potential of mental health apps to expand or expand personal care by a specialist. Therefore, it is important that you share the data collected by your app with a family doctor or psychiatrist. Is there a way to retrieve or at least print an electronic version of your data to show it to someone?

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