Mental health apps attempt to bridge the gap between professional support and those in need of mental and emotional healthcare. However, are these apps doing more harm than good?
While society may not be perfect, when it comes to mental health care, it’s much better than in the past. For many people, mental and emotional help was almost non-existent before the 80s.
Now, mental health support is more widely available and much easier to access than ever. Not to mention the constant improvements in affordability. With innovative and comprehensive online options, anyone can explore basic therapy options. One of these options is the mental health app, and there are many versions.
Mental health apps include mood tracking, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, and mindfulness meditation techniques. They offer basic tools for healing and maintaining mental stability and provide these tools as an affordable option.
But, these various companies hold ambitious claims regarding their success. Similarly, these platforms fail to abide by any contract terms either, as the law hasn’t forced them to do so.
Why do we use mental health apps?
Many people use mental health apps because it seems like their only option. About 1 in 5 people in the states alone suffer from some type of mental health condition. And these people generally have little access to proper treatment.
Sometimes, mental health applications are the only available access to emotional and mental help. And while these platforms may look great on the surface, these applications have good and bad points that must be explored.
The problem with mental health apps
First, online mental health options can never be as thorough and personal as face-to-face interaction. Mental health apps are not substitutes for psychiatric appointments, group or Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.
The efficacy of these online options is lacking in substantial treatment. Instead of mental health apps basing their legitimacy on facts, they tend to use testimonials, short-term studies, and research studies originating from groups that already promote the application.
Also, some people have experienced a worsening of symptoms after using mental health apps. Many times, these very platforms point out the problems and symptoms without providing specific tools to address them.
These applications sometimes leave users with more questions than answers about their conditions. But companies are smart, as they state, in small print, that they do not provide any medical, therapeutic, or physical benefit.
Mental health apps also fail to factor in age, status, or socioeconomic status. So basically, while claiming to help those in need, these apps neglect whole groups. These same groups also cannot relate to the forms of “therapy” used on the various platforms. This immediately disconnects the bridge between therapy and those who desperately need it.
The largest downside of mental health apps
But that isn’t even the worst issue with these applications. According to the research conducted by PIA, around 80% of mental health apps collect their users’ most personal information. In this case, your very identity is at state.
The most frightening aspect of mental health apps is exposure. The intricate details of your life may even be up for grabs by identity thieves. But it goes a bit deeper than that.
The way most mental health apps work allows breaches in privacy to happen. Each app must gather as many details about your life as possible, supposedly used to determine your possible diagnosis. Then, details about medical history or symptoms are used to customize treatment options for the possible diagnosis.
These are details like current medications, medical history, and even the details of your government identification. As with most apps, they provide baseline options that may or may not be helpful in this area. To many individuals, it’s worth the risk. But is the risk greater than the reward?
In most cases, mental health apps serve as a stepping stone to proper treatment at a physical location. But even when online mental health options are used as a transition to an in-person experience, there’s still a high risk of security compromise.
How far are smartphone apps willing to go?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been an acceleration in the production of mental health apps. Although there are no exact numbers, it’s estimated that there are around 20,000 of these apps available today.
And while they do not create many of these apps to provide long-term care, a few are slowly striving toward that goal. With the high risk of security breaches, this is alarming.
Just searching and researching medical terms means you’re telling your tiny computer private things you wouldn’t want anyone else to know. When it comes to mental health apps, you’re doing the same thing, just on a larger scale. With these emotional support apps, you’re trusting your information is safe. But are you being betrayed?
And while society stays up to date on recent mental health apps available for smartphones, others may be unaware. Just lacking information about these applications poses an initial risk. Anyone desperate for a mental health solution may see mental health apps as a life-saving option.
The more they use these applications, the more personal details they share. This includes details you would never share with another person. Users have no real protection while being provided with questionable privacy policies. And it doesn’t stop there.
To make things worse, many of these applications share this information with third parties without your knowledge or permission. An investigation during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that advertisers may be unjustly making a profit from the information shared by some mental health platforms.
Are mental health apps improving?
Researchers at Mozilla reiterated a report from 2022’s Privacy Not Included guide, saying that privacy concerns were worse than ever. Out of 32 total apps reviewed, only 27 of them displayed “Privacy not Included” tags. This means these apps share the most personal information and data openly.
So, while this year’s statistics look a bit better, there are still strides that need to be made. To greatly improve mental health apps, we must address security issues and warnings.
These simple aspects should be obvious and easy for new users to view. If the public is made aware of the potential threats, they may make wiser decisions, thus forcing these apps to change their strategies.
I think we can agree that mental health concerns are a top priority. But without proper treatment, these concerns will continue to increase. And if mental health apps are not overhauled or reconstructed, our emotional and personal problems will increase.
Do you think mental health apps are spying on you? If so, maybe it’s time you looked for a better solution.
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