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In the last year, the mental health app business has been booming. COVID anxiety contributed significantly to its rise, sending many to explore mental health alternatives. Likewise, consumer acceptance of telehealth services and remote care also boosted its use. (Dig deeper into the telehealth industry with this Bold story.) Seeing this rise in consumer demand, many companies invested in mental health app development. As a result, the market is now flooded with various platforms designed to help with a range of mood-related issues. Without question, the landscape has changed significantly in a short amount of time.

While this is great for the mental health app business in general, many have concerns about such rapid growth. Some mental health experts raise questions about the actual quality of these platforms and their benefits to the public. Others pose questions about patient privacy rights that may be neglected during mental health app development. Despite this, investors are still flocking to these platforms, anticipating their value will continue to increase in coming years. And some forecast these mental health apps may actually become the new norm in terms of psychiatric care.

“It’s essential we recognize the massive leap forward in the use of mental health apps by citizens during the pandemic, and increasing evidence of their popularity and efficacy. Research has found that digital therapies can achieve comparable outcomes to face to face therapy when the content is right.” – Liz Ashall-Payne, Founding CEO of ORCHA

Investors Fueling Mental Health App Development

Surveys over the last year have documented a major increase in consumer use of mental health platforms. But consumers aren’t the only ones searching for the latest and greatest mental health apps. According to research, there was a 6500% increase in physician searches for these platforms. This is the kind of information that investors and venture capitalists pay attention to. If providers as well as patients are finding value in the mental health app business, then so should they. And its with their support that mental health app development is moving at a record pace.

Several companies in this sector have recently landed nice funding for future development. Wysa, an emotionally intelligent AT platform, received $5.5 million in additional Series A funding lately. This brings their total funding to $9 million. Mantra Health, designed for teen mental health issues, received $3.2 million in funding recently as well. And Joon Care, which caters to teens and young adults, enjoyed $3.5 million to aid in its mental health app development. With these just being a few such companies, it’s clear the mental health app business is doing quite well.

“Sixty percent of the people who come and talk to Wysa need to feel heard and validated, but if they’re given techniques of self-help, they can actually work on it themselves and feel better.” – Jo Aggarwal, Founder and CEO of Wysa

First Do No Harm – Concerns for Mental Health Apps

The use of mental health apps covers a wide variety of conditions. Anxiety and sleep disorders during COVID encouraged many to consider these platforms for assistant. Other concerns like depression, chronic pain, relationship problems, and suicide prevention also promoted its use. Thus, based on some reports, only about 10 percent of users actually required an actual diagnosis. Because of this, the mental health app business is not looking to replace therapists but instead compliment their services. Mental health app development is therefore focused mostly on engaging users, providing general guidance, and encouraging expression. (Algorithms and artificial intelligence are being leveraged to treat mental health issues–read how in this Bold story.)

A therapist paying more attention to his tablet than his patient.
The rise in telehealth and remote care has prompted an uptick in mental health app development.

There is some concern, however, that some mental health platforms go too far. The Organization for the Review of Care and Health Apps (ORCHA) examines whether these apps are beneficial and appropriate. By their account, the mental health app business falls short in this regard. Less than a third of these platforms are considered acceptable by ORCHA. Not all of the companies involved in mental health app development are this way. Wysa, for example, screens patients with valid measures to detect serious problems. If present, users are encouraged to see a licensed therapist. This feature, among others, led to the NHS’ recognition of Wysa as meeting clinical safety standards in the UK.

“Our results confirm that app stars and downloads – even for the most popular apps by these metrics – did not correlate with more clinically relevant metrics related to privacy/security, effectiveness, and engagement.” –  John Torous, Director and Co-founder, Digital Psychiatry Division, Harvard Medical School

Privacy Issues in the Mental Health App Business

Many assume that because the mental health app business deals with health issues, it must abide by HIPAA. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Patient privacy may or may not be protected when using these platforms. Consumer Reports recently reviewed several such apps an found many shared information with third parties including Google and Facebook. They did not find evidence that specific mental health complaints were shared. But the fact that someone visited such an app was probable. This was not true of every mental health app development entity, but it was common.

Clearly, quality mental health app development companies recognize the importance of patient privacy. But the regulation of these apps has not evolved to the point that patients can assume their privacy rights are being protected. In contrast, such rights are guaranteed when seeing a licenses mental health professional. If someone is simply looking to express their frustrations and worries in a non-revealing way, these apps may be fine. But if more detailed and intimate information is being shared, an AI therapist may not be ideal.

Finding a Niche in the Mental Health Services Picture

With so many mental health platforms available, it’s unlikely all will thrive in the current marketplace. However, companies like Wysa that are focused on quality services may. Their mental health app development anticipates an evolving platform that progresses in its abilities. Through machine learning and therapist input, the platform is expected to get better. Likewise, Wysa also plans to eventually develop its own mental health therapist provider network. This will work in conjunction with its app. These types of pursuits are what makes the future of the mental health app business exciting. And it’s also a reason investors remain bullish on these companies.

 

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