A quick search on the app store reveals hundreds, if not thousands, of apps and games targeted at improving mental health. While this indicates that there is a lot of enthusiasm around both designing interactive tech for health, as well as adopting it; there is a need to approach these new tools with a considered mindset.
At the present time, there is no regulatory body in Australia to validate or examine the efficacy of games and apps for mental health. There certainly are growing lists of recommended apps available at ReachOut.com, eMHPrac, and here on CheckPoint. Additionally, there are individual research studies on various games and interactive interventions, with some randomised controlled trials, but the vast majority of readily available health apps do not have evidence-based evaluations. What this means, is that this responsibility falls to the consumer. As consumers, we must be critical of claims and carefully evaluate the content, particularly where our mental health is concerned. But how best can we do this?
A recent article written by a Doctor and Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology, in The Conversation provided a thorough list of prompts to consider when evaluating mental health apps. And we think this is an excellent place to start.
The following is an excerpt from the original article on The Conversation:
Does it use evidence-based techniques?
“A growing body of evidence also shows that internet-based CBT interventions are reliably effective. When choosing an app, look for mentions of CBT or psychologists endorsing the app as using evidence-based practices, as these have the greatest chance at being effective.”
Does it address more than one symptom or issue?
“There is a lot of research showing mental health issues often co-exist, and share many common factors that can be dealt with concurrently. Finding an app that addresses mental health and wellbeing broadly can be a way of making sure the app has use no matter what you’re going through.”
Do you tell the app how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, or what you’re doing?
“Apps that ask you to record your thoughts, emotions, and/or behaviours allow you to track these factors over time. Reflecting on these entries at a later date can enable insight into helpful or unhelpful patterns and empower you to make changes.”
Does the app recommend activities that are non-technology-based and linked to the problems you’ve reported?
“Once you’ve told the app about your feelings, thoughts, and/or behaviours, the app should be able to recommend something in return. A recommendation of a helpful activity can help you cope, boost your resilience, and improve your mood.”
Can you use the app in real time, as you’re experiencing distress?
“If an app can help you during these situations, there’s a higher likelihood you’ll learn effective coping strategies and you’ll be able to deal better with future situations.”
Is there good experimental evidence to show the app’s effectiveness?
“The high quality evidence for any health or mental health treatment comes from randomised controlled trials, where research participants are randomly allocated to different groups using different interventions.”
Do you like it?
“So if you don’t like the look of the app, don’t like the language it uses, or don’t like the things it asks you to do, it’s probably best finding another one.”
So there you have it, the 7 simple questions you can ask yourself when thinking about using a game or app for your mental health.
Dr Bakker and Assoc. Professor Rickard suggest that some of the best apps largely meeting the above criteria include MoodMission, Pacifica, Smiling Mind, and MoodKit. We love SuperBetter, Headspace, ReachOut’s Breathe, and many more that you can read on our growing list here at CheckPoint.
Of course, if you have any concerns about your mental health, please talk to your Doctor, or Mental Health Professional. While games and interactive interventions have come a long way and show really promising results, they are not a substitute for medical and psychological care. We will keep you up to date with new and exciting research as it is published, and in the meantime, stay connected and stay safe.