Alt Ed Writes Mental Health, Wellbeing and Tech

Series I: Big Data & Mental Health Apps [Part 4]

As we become more reliant on technology, and as data becomes digitised, is it possible to use data to help with our mental health? This series explores how Big Data can help with mental health.

Mental Health Apps:

For various reasons, including shortages of psychiatrists, counsellors and mental health mentors, many people with mental health conditions or people struggling to manage their mental health are unable to receive traditional help. Some resort to mental health apps and social media to solve their troubles.

New data streams such as fitness devices, genetics and genomics, social media research and more have cascaded into the healthcare realm; yet, capturing, storing and organising this data so that it can be manipulated by computers for the purposes of analysis remains a difficult task.

Nonetheless, mental health apps have gained headway. The increase in health apps, with over 318,000 health apps in circulation, suggests a possible technological revolution in the way mental illnesses are managed and treated.

For people with mental health conditions, mental health apps offer information, support and intervention outside the clinical setting. By helping people manage their mental health or find providers who can help them, the data produced and collected is useful for detecting trends that can help with further research.

Apps such as MoodNote that help track mood symptoms are very useful for this. Assuming MoodNote eventually has over 100,000 downloads and thousands of daily active users, the data collected from the users can have a large impact. In addition, mental health apps can ease the burden on health systems such as the NHS.

However, mental health apps have faced issues over the years. Research has shown a clinically relevant app for depression becomes unavailable to download every 2.9 days, which is problematic for consumers and clinicians who seek long-term apps and for researchers who seek to evaluate the impact of publicly available apps. 

To add to this, a review showed that, of the former UK NHS Health Apps Library, only 15% of those accredited by the NHS were proved to be effective. This is not to say, however, that mental health apps have no use at all. The small amount of published literature has shown strong evidence of smartphones enhancing the care of people with schizophrenia.  

Thus, it is evident that while one app may not be useful to one person, it can be useful to someone else. Furthermore, it is important to highlight that, with the stigma attached to mental health, the creation and success of these apps will enable more people to receive support in more comfortable settings.

The information that can be collected from these apps are promising; still, it is imperative we ensure the apps are in line with practice guidelines. Mental health apps must be able to provide important information to users while establishing a reliable privacy policy. The opportunities mental health apps offer for the development of evidence-based mobile interventions can only be pursued if new frameworks for mobile mental health research are put in place.

Written by Rodney

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Liked this? Take a look at these:

Series I: Big Data and Traditional Health Care Data [Part 3]

Series I: Big Data, Mental Health and Social Media [Part 5]

Series I: Big Data, Mental Health and Artificial Intelligence [Part 6]

Series I: Ethics, Privacy and Security in Mental Health Research [Part 7]

Series I: Big Data and Mental Health – The Summary [Part 8]


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