Everyday stressors in modern life can take a toll on mental health. However, recent years have seen a significant increase in social unrest, climate change threats, increased violence, political debates about basic human rights and a deadly pandemic. These problems don't just affect Americans.
The pandemic caused a 25% increase in anxiety and depression symptoms worldwide, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Tedros Adhanom Gabreyesus, WHO director general, said that this is a wakeup call for all countries to pay more attention and do a better job supporting their people's mental health.
The WHO alarm is not the only one. In December 2020, a comprehensive survey of people around the globe revealed that anxiety and stress symptoms rose during the pandemic. More than half of those surveyed reported feeling anxious and over 80 percent reported feeling stressed. These statistics are a jump from previous data that was collected in the countries of the group, which includes China, Spain and Italy, Iran as well as the United States, Turkey. Nepal, Denmark, and the United States. However, although many people were able receive psychological support, there was still a need for it.
Even though mental health conditions can often be treated at a very low cost, there is still a gap between those who need it and those who are able to afford it. The WHO states that in order to close the gap, there are three things you need: better understanding mental health to decrease stigma, more research to improve treatments, and increased access to high-quality treatment options. Experts believe that, in addition to psychiatrists and psychologists, there is a new resource available: mobile mental health apps.
These apps have been popular in recent years. Stephen Schueller, executive Director of One Mind PsyberGuide (a non-profit organization that reviews these apps), estimates that there are at least 10,000. He tells Rebecca A. Clay that exact numbers are difficult to track because apps are constantly updated and removed.
"The rate of mental illness has risen dramatically, and there's a real shortage in treatment, which is unfortunate, and something we're going with for a while," states Samantha L. Connolly (researcher and clinical psychologist at VA Boston Healthcare System). Apps can be an excellent way to get support if there is a long waitlist for care in your area. They are available on demand.
They can be used to guide users through meditation or show photos of family members or other things that bring you joy. Connolly states that if you are having trouble, it can be comforting to know that there is a support group that you can turn to whenever you need it.
Researchers suggest that apps may not only be available at all times, but they can also reduce stigma around seeking treatment for mental disorders. According to Richard E. Zinbarg (a Northwestern University clinical psychologist), "Epidemiological evidence shows that there are many people who have anxiety disorders than are receiving therapy for them." An app can be a great resource for those who want to be more independent and autonomous. He adds that while some people may think it is a weakness to seek help, and there is a stigma surrounding seeing a therapist in general, an app might be the best way to let them try their own solutions.
Experts say apps can help with certain conditions but they cannot replace professional care. There is some evidence that apps may be as effective as a therapist. But I am not ready to accept this conclusion yet. Zinbarg states that there is a lot of promising data.
Psychologists believe apps can be used to help people access therapy instead of replacing it. Schueller told the American Psychological Association that apps could be used as a way to access subsequent care. "Someone could download a CBT [Cognitive Behavioral Therapy] application, then realize that it's useful, and then search for a therapist to help further." CBT focuses primarily on helping individuals become their own therapists, as well as using problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations. Eric Kuhn is a psychologist at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Palo Alto Health Care System. He says that VA developed CBT-inspired mental healthcare apps. He says that apps like PTSD Coach are largely based on CBT. This is a better channel than other psychotherapies which might need more in-person support and reflective insights.
Experts warn that there are many apps out there, and not all are properly regulated. This can lead to poor results. Kuhn also teaches at Stanford University School of Medicine. "There are some risk," Kuhn says. You know that nobody checks every app. The buyer must be careful. There might be some things that the apps have in them that we don't recommend people doing.
Connolly states that the most important things to consider when selecting an app are its privacy policies, whether there is evidence to support its effectiveness, as well as cost.
Many apps require users to create an account using their email address and name. These apps may sell your personal data to companies like Facebook and Google. Connolly says that it is important to be cautious when discussing sensitive information via apps and being clear about where that data might go. Connolly recommends that potential users ask their healthcare provider to find out which apps have access to their data. He also suggests that they consult reputable online guides such as the One Mind PsyberGuide which ranks the privacy policies of different apps.
These guides are also useful in determining whether the app is effective and accurate. Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to be extremely helpful for people suffering from anxiety. Connolly suggests that an app with recordings of mindfulness practices could be a great strategy. Connolly says that an app that provides recordings for mindfulness practices could be a good strategy. However, accuracy is important if the app is trying to educate about a disorder. Does it come from a federal agency or research institute? It is possible to trust it.
Some apps might not be affordable for users. Some of these apps, especially those that are commercially-oriented, might have a monthly fee. Be aware of what you are signing up for and how much it might cost.
MIND Apps offers a regulated listing that allows users to find evidence-based apps in addition to the One Mind PsyberGuide. These programs have been reviewed by professionals. They allow you to locate resources that are specific to your condition and treatment.
Other options are more specific and are regulated by professionals. VA provides research-based apps like Mindfulness Coach or COVID Coach that support self-care. Zinbarg suggests that you try different things to see which ones resonate the most. Kuhn agrees. It's almost like dating. Although your first date may not be the one you want to marry, it is like dating.
Connolly uses a different metaphor to describe the mental health app market: exercising. Connolly says that accountability is one of the greatest challenges in finding an app. Apps are different. You don't have to work with anyone on the other side. You are purely responsible for your own motivation and will struggle to stick with it if you don't have external support. Connolly believes that apps will continue to grow and include a "buddy", or partner, for accountability.
Kuhn says that sticking with an app is similar to sticking to any other habit or behavior you wish to improve. He says that simply reading about the app and not using it will not make a difference. I encourage people to give the app a try and make sure it is a reliable app before they throw it out.
Connolly states that mental health is an important part of overall health and should be taken care of as well. You can download apps to track your steps or how far you run. So downloading an app to help manage your anxiety might be very similar. Hopefully, it will feel less embarrassing or shameful to admit that this is part your health and something you want to maintain.
This story was written by experts who recommended the following apps to manage anxiety and improve mental well-being.
Meru Health offers therapy and coaching programs that can help you achieve long-term mental health improvement. This program includes 8-12 weeks of one-on-1 consultations, ongoing chats with a licensed therapist or personal coach, as well as daily activities such mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Kuhn claims that the chat feature of the app allows users to engage in texting and phone calls with coaching or clinical support. He says that the app has a research focus. "They are working with academics on the research angle." To enroll in the program, you will need to be referred by a healthcare professional or have Meru Health as part your employer's insurance benefits.
Insight Timer provides guided meditations, music tracks, and talks from top researchers, psychologists, neuroscientists, and mindfulness experts. Zinbarg uses Insight Timer personally to time his meditations and to help his patients. He says that Insight Timer is extremely useful in introducing people to breathing meditation. "I set an interval alarm that will notify me when we're half way through the time allotted. This allows me to know when it's time to end my guidance and give them some time to continue their own guided breathing.
Headspace provides guided meditations, sleeping meditations, and breathing exercises to help users manage stress and anxiety. The app features user-friendly content as well as visually striking animations that engage all levels of meditation experience. Kuhn stated that Headspace uses independent researchers to validate its app and has a solid research program. Headspace offers a free 10-day introductory program. However, it also offers two auto-renewing subscription options at $12.99 per month and $69.99 per annum.
Calm provides "Sleep Stories" that are narrated daily by celebrities (such as LeBron Jam), ten-minute Daily Calm sessions, as well as music libraries, videos and mindful movement exercises. Calm offers guided meditations that can be adjusted to suit the user's needs. They are available in lengths from 3 to 25 minutes. Calm offers a free seven-day trial and an option to purchase an annual subscription for $69.99 or $399.99.
Kuhn states that companies like Calm and Headspace are validating their products and not only marketing, but also making the app visually appealing and engaging. They are showing the app's benefit through rigorous empirical research.