Mobile Mental Health Apps: Rebooting Clinical Practice?

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Mobile Mental Health Apps: Rebooting Clinical Practice?
Mobile Mental Health Apps: Rebooting Clinical Practice?

The number of active smartphones worldwide is estimated to have reached 1.63 billion units in 2014. The widespread adoption and use of smartphones and other mobile technologies has opened new and innovative ways to improve medical and mental health delivery.

Approximately 52% of smartphone owners use their mobile device to search for health information, and 20% of smartphone owners have downloaded a mobile health (mHealth) app. An estimated 500 million smartphone users worldwide currently use mHealth apps, and by 2018, 50% of the more than 3.4 billion smartphone and tablet users will have downloaded mHealth apps. The most popular mHealth Apps are related to weight, diet and exercise. Only about 6% of mHealth apps are focused on mental health, although there is a growing interest in developing more apps in this domain.

The breadth of potential uses of mobile mental health apps is considerable. Apps have been designed as symptom trackers, as well as assessment and psychoeducational tools. There are also apps that attempt to treat symptoms more generally or those associated with a particular disorder.  Many of these apps can either be used in conjunction with ongoing face-to-face therapy (therapist-assisted) or in a self-help format.

Mental health apps are generally premised upon evidence-based treatments such as: cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy and exposure therapy. While the majority of apps are classified under only one of the aforementioned categories, others incorporate all functionalities into one (i.e. AnxietyCoach, PTSD Coach).

The benefits of these apps are also far-reaching.The mobile aspect of apps allow for instant access to information and communication on the go. Apps used in conjunction with traditional therapy may increase the saliency of treatment goals outside of the office, as well as encourage engagement and adherence to the treatment plan. Apps used as a self-help modality may increase the availability of psychoeducational materials and treatment strategies for people who may not otherwise seek out or have access to traditional mental health treatment.

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