Many companies are responding to elevated levels of mental illness and stress in their workforce by adding mental health apps to their suite of benefits. This is a rapidly-growing industry, with new apps coming online seemingly every day. Mental health apps are becoming part of most large company’s benefits toolkit, and interest grows everyday.
But how can you assess whether an app is working, or it’s all for show? The American Psychiatric Association (APA) warns that most apps have not been subjected to clinical trials. Not only could they be unproductive, they could cause harm in a number of ways, such as by providing misleading information, offering ineffective treatment, or handling user data in an unsecured manner.
The APA suggests evaluating apps before adding them to your employee benefits, and even offers an in-house service called App Advisor. But employers can do some research themselves to determine if a mental health app is a good choice. Here are few things to consider when assessing a mental health app for your workplace.
Does this app have clinical data to back up its claims? As the APA points out, very few apps actually have applied clinical research. If an app is claiming to provide therapeutic treatment for addressing mental health concerns, such as depression or anxiety, look for published research on their effectiveness. The number of such apps is currently very low — one study suggests it’s below 4% of free “mental health” apps available.
Does this app have clear privacy policies? Besides being an industry standard, privacy protections are especially important for mental health apps. Most employees are looking for anonymity when they’re dealing with mental health issues. Whether they fear for the safety of their job, being singled out in the workplace, or being overlooked for a promotion, anonymous access to mental health apps is key to getting the most reluctant users to sign up and look for health benefits.
Does this app collect data for a therapeutic goal? If an employee wants to transition from digital to provider-based care, transferable data could be useful to them. APA suggests that apps offering mood trackers or medication management in particular should have shareable data. Additionally, if modules inside the app lead to positive behavior changes or skill acquisition, owning the data or sharing the data could be of use to the user.
Mental health apps can range from enhancing mindfulness strategies to full digital therapy sessions, so it’s essential to know just what you’re signing up for when you add this kind of program to your employees’ benefits portfolio. Take time to vet the apps available to your company. It could provide a great benefit to your employees over time, but it’s also possible for the bad to outweigh the good. Learn more about app selection at psychiatry.org.