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Are mental health apps really effective?

Experts share their views on these apps and recommend those that one can use to manage their mental health better

Mental health apps cannot replace therapy but can help deal with immediate problems
Mental health apps cannot replace therapy but can help deal with immediate problems (iStock)

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With mental health awareness growing by the day, it is not surprising that people seek out simpler and easier solutions to manage themselves better. While therapy can seem to be a long and arduous process for many, a simple app that is non-intrusive, with step-by-step solutions, is something that may appeal to many people. However, therapists generally believe that these apps cannot replace therapy. It can, however, be a healthy way to deal with immediate problems.

Lounge speaks to experts to know more and get some recommendations

Rizwana Nulwalla

Rizwana Nulwalla
Rizwana Nulwalla (Special Arrangement)

What is your opinion on mental health apps?

Nulwalla is a bit sceptical about mental health apps, in general—their benefits are not scientifically validated, and a lot of them are not culturally relevant, she says. However, it could prove to be useful for those who have logistical issues in reaching out to a therapist. “These apps are also useful for those who feel shame or stigmatised when it comes to therapy,” she adds. Despite being a bit of a sceptic, she says, “Some apps are really good, and some are not so good. The important thing is to recognise that embracing technology need not be harmful.”

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Are these apps beneficial?

“Yes, and no,” she says. “I would say that yes, they can be beneficial because the number of therapists and number of people needing support is greatly disproportionate. An app can support you during hard times. And I would say they won’t be as beneficial because they are not a substitute for professional support and cannot address individualized needs. Much work in therapy is evolving then and there, and an app doesn’t have that flexibility that a live session will give,” she adds.

Do you recommend any of these apps to your clients?

Depending on a client’s problem and needs, Nulwalla does recommend apps that can be used. She elaborates, “Mostly I use worksheets which are professionally developed or create personalised exercises or worksheets for clients which I find are more relevant.” She finds Headspace and Calm to be good apps.

Hansika Kapoor

Hansika Kapoor
Hansika Kapoor (Special Arrangement)

What is your opinion on mental health apps?

Kapoor believes that apps that aim to help users manage stressors and daily activities can be very beneficial for some. “They also help clients who are in therapy to organise their thoughts and keep track of their moods. Because clients can get in-built notifications or reminders for regular thought or mood check-ins, apps can record continuous data, which can be discussed in subsequent therapy sessions,” she states.

She also says that, “If a client is not in therapy, these apps can still help with building insight and tracking changes in mood/thought in response to specific events.”

Are these apps beneficial?

As with all things, Kapoor says that it depends on how these apps are used and with what intent. “Apps like Calm and Moodfit, if used regularly, can be an initial step in gaining insight into one’s stressors and can also encourage some to seek professional help when circumstances become too overwhelming.

Self-help apps are most similar to self-help books, just that they are in a new format and are more interactive,” she explains.

Do you recommend any of these apps to your clients?

Kapoor does have many clients who have used or are currently using these apps. If it is the latter, she integrates the use of the app within their homework as part of therapy. “For most clients, I tend to recommend using a guided meditation app (if they agree to try the same) and a mood check-in app so that they are aware of changes in their emotional state,” she reveals.

Aleeka Kumar

Aleeka Kumar
Aleeka Kumar (Special Arrangement)

What is your opinion on mental health apps?

“I haven’t had too much interface with these apps, either personally or through my clientele. There was just one person who mentioned using the ‘Calm’ app and found it effective. “

Are these apps beneficial?

Kumar’s own understanding is that these apps cannot cater to people who are struggling with mental health issues of a certain level. “They provide for people who are struggling with slightly more superficial concerns around mental health, and I am saying that relatively, such as generic stress and lack of sleep,” she believes.

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Kumar strongly feels that clients turn to therapy after every possible attempt at resolving their problem by themselves has come to nought. “Therapy happens when the person is not able to find an internal dialogue to undo the knots in their emotions and help themselves out,” she says.

Do you recommend any of these apps to your clients?

Kumar doesn’t recommend these apps to her clientele because their issues do come across as those needing a lot more support. “As of now, the human encounter in therapy is what they really need,” she shares.

Many of them, she says, have lost a sense of the subjective self and these apps are not able to cater to that need for personal engagement however personalised they get. “There are nightmares to attend to before sleep is tracked,” she adds.

  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    07.12.2021 | 11:30 AM IST

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