The Rising Popularity of Apps for Mental Health
Mental health is always critically important but in today’s world it’s a subject that is being talked about more frequently. For many, using apps for mental health is less stigmatized and more of an everyday consideration.
Having a variety of self-care and wellness tools gives people options. Mental health often requires a full toolkit, versus just one approach. That is all the more important during recent times, when connection, routine, and even in-person support can be a challenge.
The normalization of talking about mental health, and focusing on mental health, extends to apps that people can use as they please, on their smart devices. Now, you can work mental health and wellbeing into your day just as easily as you can order food or check the weather.
What is a mental health app and how does it work?
Most mental health apps are not there to replace professional care. Instead, they are an option to augment mental health and wellbeing. They let users set goals and meet them, track progress, exercise, connect, and so much more. Some follow the principles of therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy to help monitor and consider mental health issues in a simple, straightforward way.
For people dealing with complex or serious mental health concerns, an app is generally not a line of treatment. Some apps allow people to connect with mental health professionals, however, and those must meet the same regulations as other healthcare.
Types of mental health apps
There are a wide variety of mental health apps on the market. They fall into broad categories, though many are specialized further within those categories. Further in the article we will talk about how to choose a target demographic for an app and how that impacts app development.
Self-help and therapy skills apps empower people to manage their mental health. They effectively give users coping skills based on different types of therapy. They could focus on a specific issue or disorder, or give general skills.
Mindfulness and meditation apps are also very popular. They guide users through these practices, giving instruction and keeping people committed to this approach to mental health. Many mindfulness and meditation apps also come with other mental health features.
Some mental health apps are simple trackers so people can collect and monitor data about themselves. That could be moods, habits, symptoms, or a combination of factors.
Then, there are the professional support apps. These come with an additional layer of regulation and oversight, to ensure that formal support is in place and needs are being met. Some, however, are a more casual peer support type of group, which may put less onus on the app creator to meet specific compliance needs.
There are many good reasons to make mental health apps, and the market is one of them!
One study says that the market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 20.5% to reach $3.3 billion by 2027. There are over 300,000 health applications in mobile app stores worldwide, according to this research, and the mental health segment is the largest growing.
The same study says that the top 20 mental health apps in the United States reached four million first-time downloads in April 2020. That is a 29 percent increase from January of the same year, showing the impact of coronavirus especially.
Another study echoes those findings, and adds that the iOS segment is also the most likely to grow. The iOS system contained more health apps than Android in previous years and sees many new apps added daily. The researchers expect iOS to dominate the market in the years to come as a result.
How to develop apps for mental health?
There are certain steps to follow in developing a mental health app if you want it to be successful and stand out in the sea of competitors.
The first is to do your customer research and choose a target audience. That could be seniors, teenagers, a certain region, a certain gender, or a certain mental health concern. This helps you understand more about who you’re trying to reach, what motivates them, and most importantly, what solution you are offering them.
You will also need to decide what type of app you are creating. That includes the format of the app, such as the difference between a coping skills app or a tracker app. It also means deciding whether it should be a web or a mobile app and what platform or platforms you will be launching the app on, iOS or Android.
Key features of apps for mental health
There are certain features users expect from an app, and you need to know your focus. Your target audience should help inform this, but there are some general features that most top-performing apps for mental health share.
Most apps have a user profile of some sort, which should be personalized to each user. Apart from picking a color scheme, users should be offered more functional aspects such as a wake up and sleep time to set out when the app will be most used. App users should be also encouraged to update their profile with some personal details allowing an algorithm to match patients with therapists.
Apps for mental health should enable their users to conduct self-monitoring like examining mood patterns for better stress management and tracking symptoms and progress for patients suffering from a mental disorder. So it is also recommended to provide the possibility of connecting a mental health app with wearables in order to gain access to uninterrupted flux of valuable data. Self-monitoring could be also performed with features like surveys and journals that allow app users to record all remarkable events, thoughts and experiences in an easy and secure way.
Therefore, it is good to take care of a customized dashboard integrating tracking functions and displaying all gathered information in a way that is comprehensible for patients and convenient for doctors. Such a dashboard is a valuable source of information. Having all data in one place, doctors can better manage cases by making more adequate treatment plans and monitoring patient health. As a result, patients receive better care and greater attention getting more engaged in their therapy.
Patient engagement could be also increased by adding a gamification element in the form of interactive games and rewards for achieved goals. It could be done also by including notifications that are sent to patients in order to remind them of e.g. performing some exercises or taking medicine at particular times.
Another way to make your apps for mental health stand out from the crowd is to include a community feature that gives users the possibility of sharing their progress, thoughts or feelings with family or friends and get support from groups of people that have similar experiences.
Moreover, patients must have the possibility of sharing their health records directly with therapists or to get in touch with them in case of emergency. For that reason, communication features have to be added in all apps for mental health as one of the most important functions. Users should be able to reach out to certified therapists to get support in time through text messages or in-app messaging features like video calls and audio sessions, whatever suits their needs best.
Therefore it is important to consider in-app human support that could provide medical assistance from professionals rather than relying on pre-recorded therapy sessions. By the way, all education materials must be consulted with and approved by medical practitioners before launching apps for mental health.
In case of an emergency situation like a panic attack, a prompt response is needed. By adding an emergency feature, users of apps for mental health get the chance to send an emergency signal with one click in order to get in touch with doctors immediately.
Building trust is critical when marketing an app to users. Security is a very important factor here. Your app should be transparent in what information is collected and how it can be shared and used. Of course, if other policies and regulations apply to your particular work, be sure to outline that, and to be in compliance with those rules.
Monetizing Mental Health Apps
If you are developing a mental health app, it’s often for the good of your users, but of course, generating revenue is important too. You have several strategies at your fingertips to make this happen, based on your audience and your goals.
- ‘Freemium’ apps are very popular, as they are free for users to download. Typically, this revenue-generating model is based on giving users a simpler version of the app that they can use without paying. They may need to pay to unlock premium features, or will only have access to the full version for a limited time, or a small number of times during a specific period.
- Subscriptions work similarly — users get access for a certain period, and then have to subscribe to keep their access to the app. Getting to try before they buy, users see why an app could be useful, and many take the plunge.
- In-app purchases can also take a basic app to something more advanced if a user decides to add o to the platform you’ve provided for free.
- Ads are another option for monetizing that is popular with developers as it is quick and easy. However, this may not be the recommended option for users of apps for mental health, who may find the ads intrusive or irrelevant, while they are looking for ways to ease their mind.
Monetization strategies largely depend on your target audience, any specific compliance rules you must follow, and the type of app. Ads may not work well in a meditation app, for example, but a freemium approach could.
Examples of apps for mental health
Happify is a self-help app, designed to teach users to overcome negative thoughts, stress, and challenges. It is informed by evidence-based studies on positive psychology, mindfulness, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Users play games and engage with activities, creating a happiness score that can be measured and tracked.
Happify users can select a specific track targeted to their needs, personalizing the experience that much more. The app is based on a freemium model. The basic version is free, while an upgraded edition costs $15 a month.
WorryWatch is an interesting app designed to help people manage anxieties. That could result from an anxiety disorder, or just someone who is feeling worried more frequently than usual. The app lets users track these anxious thoughts and feelings, and gives guidance on how to get through them.
WorryWatch takes users through a four-step response when an anxiety is identified. They learn to record the thought, reflect on it, reason through it, and refute what can be refuted to learn that many fears are unfounded. The app comes with a tracker to show how frequently negative thoughts, triggers, and patterns appear in a user’s life. It also offers positive affirmations on a daily or weekly basis.
WorryWatch is an app that is monetized through one, direct payment. Users pay $5 for the app, and it remains accessible to them. With an app like this, the challenge is marketing it well enough that people are willing to pay up front.
NotOK is an example of a support app. The company calls it a ‘digital panic button’, which ensures users have immediate access to support through a text, phone call, or even a GPS location. Vulnerable people do not have to worry about how to ask for help or who to ask — they simply use the app, which is already loaded with trusted contacts.
A user fills in their trusted contact list, and if it is needed, they simply hit an alert button. It sends a message to the contacts so they know the user is in need of help or support. That includes the user’s location. Other supports within the app include guided breathing, information on crisis text lines and peer support lines, and external resources. It’s important to note that the app recommends anyone in immediate danger call 911 before using the notOK button. It is not designed to be an emergency response tool, but rather as a pre-crisis tool so people don’t get to a crisis stage.
The notOK app is entirely free, set up by the creator who invented it thinking about her own mental health struggles. Users do have the option of a small paid monthly subscription, which exists to keep the app free.
SuperBetter is an app designed to build resilience. Created by a game designer, the app is very gamified, with users encouraged to challenge themselves. It is targeted at youth, who learn skills and gain access to support they need to thrive. However, the app is open to anyone over the age of 13, and is constructed with universal psychosocial research meaning anyone can benefit from playing.
The premise of the app is that everyday situations and challenges are turned into game-like scenarios. The app recommends things that will make you feel better, ‘bad guys’ to watch out for, and quests to get closer to a goal. When you accomplish something, you record the action. It moves you forward in the game while also improving your real, offline life. This is another app that is free for users.
Benefits of creating an app with us
There are so many benefits to using mental health apps. Users can take control of their health and feel empowered. They may be able to avoid unnecessary medical interventions, which makes the healthcare system more efficient. And, of course, they get real-life benefits with improvements in mood, happiness, stability, physical health, resilience, and more.
For app creators, there are many benefits too. This is a growing, vibrant market with a lot of potential. People are willing to try a variety of mental health apps right now, so there is no better time to try to harness the market.
Of course, getting started making an app can be overwhelming. There are audiences to consider, formats, compliance rules, monetization, and technological stacks to consider. And, there’s the work of turning an idea into a real app, especially if you’re not a developer already. That is where we come in.
Concise Software can help you with web and mobile app development, offering top talent, cost-effective work, flexibility, and high-quality results. Reach out to us to learn more. Our team can provide a project estimate in as little as two days! We’re looking forward to working with you.