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Tue Dec 29, 2020, 07:14 PM

How to navigate the 'chaotic' world of mental health apps

Wellness

How to navigate the ‘chaotic’ world of mental health apps

By Allyson Chiu
Dec. 29, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. EST

A quick search for “anxiety,” “depression” or “mental health” in Apple’s App Store or on Google Play returns a dizzying array of results. Offerings include games for stress relief, meditation guides, mood trackers and tools intended to tackle conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and more. But regardless of function, many of these apps tout variations of the same promise: They’ll help you feel better.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, mobile mental health apps have experienced a “surge in growth,” responding to an increased need for support as many have been impacted by the psychological toll of 2020, said Adam Haim, chief of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Treatment and Preventive Intervention Research Branch. In January, ahead of the pandemic, the American Psychological Association estimated that there were already up to 20,000 apps available for download.

“The barriers to developing and selling or releasing mental health apps are very low, and currently the market is flooded,” Haim said. “It’s hard for consumers, and in some cases clinicians, to identify what’s evidence-based and might work versus what does not include an evidence base and may in some cases be harmful.”

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Still, Haim and other experts said apps can be a helpful resource. “Having a game plan going into such a chaotic marketplace is going to really help you make a better decision, a more informed decision and just a faster decision,” said John Torous, director of the digital psychiatry division at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

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Allyson Chiu
Allyson Chiu is a reporter focusing on wellness for The Washington Post. She previously worked overnight on The Post's Morning Mix team. Follow https://twitter.com/_allysonchiu

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