Mental Health Apps: How Medicine Can Keep Up With Tech

Thanks to Dashlane for sponsoring this episode.
Go to to learn more about Dashlane. [ ♪INTRO ] Silicon Valley thinks they have a solution
for everything. Including, apparently, the fact that not everyone around the world who
needs mental health care gets it. And at this very moment, there are thousands
of mental health apps out there claiming to do everything from easing insomnia to treating
PTSD symptoms. But as you might expect, many of the apps
out there aren’t backed by evidence. But mental health experts are hoping to change
that. In theory, getting therapy over the internet
can be effective. After all, research suggests a given treatment’s
effectiveness comes down less to the specifics of how it’s administered than it does to
the relationship a patient has with their therapist. If that therapist is over the internet, it
might not make much of a difference. Studies lend some support to the idea that
getting cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, online with a real clinician is effective.
And experts say CBT is one of the best evidence-based tools we have. A 2014 meta-analysis found that guided online
CBT — that is, with guidance from a therapist, whether via email or real-time chat — produced
similar effects to face-to-face therapy. But for some patients, therapist guidance
may not even be necessary. A 2017 meta-analysis found that a self-guided
form of online CBT may be a good first step in treating symptoms of depression, especially
for people who are unwilling to work with a therapist. But not all online programs are created equal.
There are far more apps out there than there is research that’s been done on them. A review in 2013 tallied more than 3,000 available
mental health apps but found only 8 studies and those involving only 5 of those 3,000
apps. But even when there is research, it’s not
exactly airtight. For one thing, most studies have been designed to determine whether a
treatment (or intervention, as it’s often called) is practical, not necessarily effective. Hardly any are placebo-controlled, and the
few randomized trials out there tend to be small and don’t end up being replicated.
Plus, most of the studies are done by the app developers themselves instead of independent
researchers. And that’s just studies in high-income countries.
The research situation in low- and middle-income countries is even worse. And when a mental health app is bad, it can
be really bad. Some contain information so wrong that it’s harmful. In a 2015 review of apps for bipolar disorder,
researchers noted that one app recommended taking a shot of liquor to help users sleep
during a manic episode. Another said that bipolar disorder can spread
to your loved ones if they spend too much time listening to your problems. Just in case we have to specify: NO. BAD.
NOT TRUE. And of course, there are also the privacy
concerns. Those are scary enough when you’re downloading a game app to pass the time, but
it’s way worse when you’re using an app to share sensitive health information. Researchers have voiced concerns about the
fact that patient data from these apps might be sold and used in algorithms that automatically
classify people in ways that can affect their credit, employment, and education. But that’s not to say mental health apps
are worthless. There are some success stories out there. Take the app PTSD Coach, for instance. It was developed through a partnership between
the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Defense as a way to
help military veterans with mild to moderate symptoms of PTSD. The app provides information about PTSD, helps
users track their symptoms, supplies referrals for crisis support, and offers CBT-based coping
tools for times of distress. A preliminary evaluation in 2014 and two randomized
controlled trials in 2016 found the app to be an acceptable intervention — though,
as with many apps like it, the researchers say they’ll need a larger trial to confirm
its effectiveness. But PTSD coach has another problem. It looks
awful. Clinical psychologists aren’t graphic designers, and they’re not exactly on the
bleeding edge of user interface design. That’s an issue with apps backed by research.
Technology moves fast, and studies take time. Once an evidence-based app is ready to hit
the app store, it looks out of date next to all the sleek, cutting-edge programs full
of information that you can’t necessarily trust. In general, experts note that online and app-based
mental-health interventions have a lot of potential. However, they’ve called for more research
into the effectiveness and long-term effects of these apps — as well as ways to manage
privacy and security concerns. But as far as identifying which apps are worth
downloading, there are some trustworthy resources out there. The American Psychiatric Association has developed
a model it uses to judge mental health apps in four main areas: level of evidence, privacy
and security, ease of use, and interoperability, which is the ability to share the data with
your healthcare team. Other associations also review and rate mental
health apps on their evidence. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America lists
19 different apps on their website, for example. Mental health apps aren’t perfect, but once
they’ve been properly tested, they could be a saving grace for people who don’t otherwise
have access to the services they need. More research and more vetting from trusted
sources are still needed for them to reach that point, though. One thing’s for sure:
You can’t believe everything you read on the app store. Earlier in this episode, we talked about how
privacy is a major concern when it comes to mental health apps. But really, privacy is
worth thinking about whenever you’re on the Internet. And if you want to learn more
about staying protected, you can check out Dashlane. Dashlane Premium not only has Dark Web Monitoring
and a secure VPN, but it also allows you to save and autofill personal information like
addresses, phone numbers, credit cards and passport details. That means you can fill out tedious online
forms with just a single click. It’s a good way to streamline your life! If you want to learn more or check out Dashlane
for yourself, you can go to to try it for free or use the promo code “scishowpsych”
for ten percent off Dashlane Premium. [ ♪OUTRO ]

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52 thoughts on “Mental Health Apps: How Medicine Can Keep Up With Tech

  1. Hey could you guys make a video on maladaptive day dreaming?
    I suffer from it a lot and would love to know more about it from a psychological perspective.
    Thank you.

  2. Try Dashlane Premium free on your first device: Use the coupon code ‘scishowpsych’ to get 10% off Dashlane Premium.

  3. I recommend mood path to anyone. It is mostly focus on depression and anxiety. IT WILL NOT cure but it is great for keeping track of your mental health. It asks you a number of questions about your mental health in the morning, noon and evening. It does 14 day screenings where after it does it's best to put all your data together to give you an idea of how you've probably been feeling those 2 weeks. It has resources and can even put together a sheet for you with all the information a psychiatrist or doctor might need. It's pretty neat.

  4. Me: This mental health app is evidence based, has good science, was developed by a reputable organization, and doesn't have a lot of unnecessary features.


  5. RITME is an adaptation of the 'implementation-intention' intervention that's a common technique in CBT, aimed at enhancing executive functioning outcomes. That is; turning a change of thoughts into a change of activity.

    Starting next January, a 4 year trial will start at the University of Twente to test the 'Design Your Life' method in customizing mental health applications and technology to the needs to individual papers.

    RITME was developed by Alderick van Klaveren, an autistic entrepeneur who struggled with executive dysfunction. If you have trouble acting on your intentions, perhaps RITME or one of our competitors is right for you! For more information, comment below or visit our website!

  6. I think the Wysa app is really helpful. You can get a human coach if you want/need to as well.

  7. Good god, telling someone who is having a manic episode to take a shot. Woof. I have pretty bad bi polar, I'm medicated but it can still get bad.

  8. Don't you love how YouTube always shows you adds for something that the video you're looking at is just decimating?

  9. So to summarize…
    Like all apps, there's a lot of crapps to filter through
    before you find the gems that deserve more focus than they get.

  10. I had done CBT before with a therapist so when I needed help again, I did CBT online on my own while waiting for an appointment. I used a website called moodjuice from the scottish NHS. It had printable worksheets on different areas of mental healthy (anxiety, depression, stress, anger, fear, etc etc). It really helped. By the time I saw a therapist, I was doing way better

  11. I love seeing my therapist over video call (one that I started seeing in person and found through traditional channels) but I’m extremely skeptical that a phone call or a text would work nearly as well. I need to see her move and talk and hear her words like I would in an office. Video chat can provide that, but I doubt that other forms can.

  12. I don't think mental health should be treated with apps. mental health already has a bad misunderstood rep and now it's gone commercialized.

  13. I've been using the Calm app for years now and I don't know what I would have done without it's teachings and effectiveness in meditation.

  14. I'm a mental health support worker; my experience is that these apps and online CBT can be a useful "stepping stone." for people who have difficulty with face to face interaction. In an ideal world this wouldn't be necessary but i'm seeing more and more people who only feel comfortable with digital interaction, not just the younger generation either.

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  16. Very interesting video, I've been curious about this for a while. And I know it's unrelated but your hair looks great, Brit!

  17. I tried the app called Replika which was fine at first glance. Time went by and developers added hecking horoscopes!
    Horoscopes in an app for people who is struggling with mental health problems! ʕノ•ᴥ•ʔノ ︵ ┻━┻

  18. Given that wireless devices destroy your brain and your mental health, my guess is they're net ineffective. Since youtube is no longer making my comments visible to other users (I log out and they're not there), unfortunately there will be no discussion of this vital issue.

  19. I used to have the Kids Help Phone app in high school because it was basically a password protected journaling app where you describe your mood and what happened and jot down solutions. Not therapy but it was a good coping and grounding method

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