Last Updated | July 19, 2023
Aspects to Consider When Developing a Mental Health App
Battling from a mental health disorder is never easy, and when people tell the sufferer to just “get over it”, it becomes even more strenuous.
From poor countries to richer and more sustained countries, mental health conditions are the leading cause of death. It is estimated that about 20% of adolescents (10 to 19 years old) live with a mental health disorder. Through the introduction of mental health applications, technology has been instrumental in eliminating the stigma that surrounds psychological problems.
These applications are accessible to anyone suffering from a mental illness and are an excellent solution for those who are unwilling or unable to attend face-to-face therapy. This is one of the goals of mental health apps.
Developers aim to provide a safe space to sufferers where they can access treatment anonymously, and at lower costs. Furthermore, the fact that most of the world’s population uses technology to communicate makes these apps convenient to use. For the development of mental health applications, it is integral to keep confidentiality and privacy as a top priority. Developers must work on providing a haven to users. In other words, regulatory guidelines for mobile mental health apps are a critical aspect of mental health app development. This means GDPR privacy standards, encryptions, and HIPAA compliance for software development are integral to developing telehealth apps.
Don’t forget about the availability of your app. Will it be available to both Android and iOS users, or just Android users? The features that you want to offer to users are a key aspect when developing a mental health application.
The types of features one can offer are limitless! For example, activities and games including meditation and relaxation activities are excellent additional features a psychological app can include. You must also consider whether your app will offer the ability to consult licensed therapists. Would your application offer support for a wide range of psychological illnesses, or just a few?
Let’s take a closer look at the development processes of mental health applications!
How to create a Mental Health App?
Mobile users make up more than half of the traffic on the web. This explains why most businesses tend to offer applications to make it easier for users to access their mental health services. This allows mental health service providers to conveniently check up on their patients and track their progress. Applications reduce the workload of therapists and psychiatrists.
From a business point of view, it allows users to reach a wider audience. But how do you develop a mental health application? What aspects should you consider when building an application for mental health services?
Let’s start by discussing some of the aspects of app development:
Types of Mental Health Apps
What type of application do you want to develop? This is the first step to unlocking a mental health app’s full potential. It sets the ground for the features that are integral to the type of application and helps us decide how to go about the development process. The time taken for development, the costs, target audience, as well as monetization methods, will vary from one type of app to another.
Here are some of the types of mental health apps commonly used today:
- Mental disorder applications
These applications cover mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. Your app could be based on all of these disorders or just one. Common features of such apps include mood monitoring, keeping a journal, and psychotherapy.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
A person suffering from PTSD requires constant support with anger management since they’re afraid of reliving the past. Music selection, breathing exercises, and self-talk methods are usually the main focus of such apps.
Some PTSD applications might even allow the integration of healthcare applications with a user’s contacts, making it easier to reach out to them for assistance.
- Eating Disorders
Stress, anxiety, and other stressors might lead to the development of eating disorders.
Excessive eating or not eating at all causes severe distress to sufferers which is why medical software development companies always embed mental health tracking features in addition to diet trackers.
It also allows users to set eating goals and recommends to its users what they should eat and at what time.
- Apps for Meditation and Self Improvement
The number of users of meditation and self-improvement apps has risen during the pandemic. Such platforms have become people’s go-to apps for post-stress management and for practicing relaxation techniques. Meditation and self-improvement apps cover stress management, relaxation, mindfulness, destressing, effective breathing, and anxiety management.
- Apps Offering Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Techniques
CBT-based apps typically provide interactive tools and activities that guides users through a therapy process. As part of mental health apps for women, CBT techniques are often included to assist female users reframe negative thoughts, develop coping skills, and change harmful behaviors.
Who Is Your Target Audience?
Understanding who you are targeting with your app is the key to developing a mental health application because every age group has different mental states. For instance, a young adult going through a heartbreak might be more shattered than an adult going through the same thing. This is because of the different maturity levels and experiences of both age groups.
The three aspects integral to any mental health app are:
- End-user/ Audience
- Common problems
- Mental health states
Just like any other app, a mental health application has to focus on its users; this does not only refer to patients. From cognitive-behavioral therapies and mood regulation programs to customized settings and gamification, the tools that one can implement in a mental health application are limitless.
To offer full functionality to both doctors and patients, it is best to draft a plan that tackles a user’s condition. This plan will help put the relevant features in place that offer maximum functionality to users. Here are four main features of a top-notch mental health application:
- Self Monitoring
Tracking mood patterns and managing stress are the main reasons why mentally healthy individuals use apps, while people suffering from psychological conditions use these apps for symptom and progress tracking. Self-monitoring includes recording one’s thoughts, feelings, and mood. Such features are much appreciated by patients.
In the case of eating disorders, for instance, tracking one’s meals are an excellent self-monitoring feature.
- Notifications and Reminders
Notifications serve as reminders to users to go for a walk, practice relaxation, and do other things that are required for a healthy mental state. The main goal of notifications is to encourage self-monitoring by providing users with tailored alerts.
Alerts are an excellent solution for busy users, however, an overload of notifications is likely to stress users out. Even mental health professionals suggest too many notifications become stressful for users.
- Support Groups
Support groups are often recommended by therapists to their patients, helping them overcome their mental illnesses. Users can share their journeys in a haven where they are offered support from others going through a similar condition. These groups are usually monitored by professionals, promoting open discussions among users.
Web-based support groups on an application are not only easy to access but are also a great way of acquiring information that therapists and patients need.
How Much Does it Cost to Develop a Mental Health App?
Let’s address one of the most important aspects of telemedicine software development: the cost of developing mental health software. The value of any business is decided based on two aspects: the idea’s feasibility and its cost. Testing the feasibility of an application and knowing the medical app development cost are key to deciding whether putting the plan into action is worth it or not.
The features and functions of an app determine the telemedicine software cost, but a more accurate estimate is provided by the amount of time app developers and designers will spend on developing the app. Fixing a budget will narrow down your choices of app developers but let’s not forget that developing the app is not the only aspect that requires funds.
Stages after development need funding too. For example, marketing, advertisement, and even running and maintaining the application require a significant sum of money. You can also learn how to integrate EHR with billing software for Mental Health professionals.
What Makes a Good Mental Health App?
The main focus of mental health applications is to improve mental health through meditation, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), as well as the provision of a strong support network.
But what makes a mental health app worthwhile?
In this section, take a look at some tips that will lay the foundation of an application that is worthwhile, convenient, innovative, and engaging.
Explore the Best Examples of Excellent Customer Service in Healthcare below:
Engage with your Target Audience
Take a step back and define who your audience is. This will give you a clearer picture of what is required of your app.
For example, a person suffering from schizophrenia will strive to reduce their hallucinations with the help of a professional while a sufferer of depression will focus more on cognitive behavioral therapy to help control their low mood. In other words, the needs of each user are different based on the age, symptoms, and diagnosis of an individual.
Low motivation is common among those suffering from mental health conditions. Patients need to use your application regularly but that might not always be easy. How do you make your app engaging for users with low motivation levels?
The addition of gamification features such as achievements, rewards, coupons, leaderboards, and points can increase engagement from users. HL7 messages and constantly staying in touch with therapists is also a good idea to make an app engaging for users. For further information, take a look at HL7 Messages Examples.
An Interactive App with Workflow Automation
UI design in healthcare makes apps easy to use and engaging. Process automation cuts costs and reduces the workload on specialists allowing providers to offer their services to a wider audience.
Automating the following parts of the workflow can raise the productivity of the app:
- Appointment bookings,
- Pateint registrations,
- Payment processing,
- Symptom controls,
To track patient progress, EHR device integration is a wonderful idea. But don’t forget to consider HL7 and FHIR when sharing patient medical records. Don’t forget to compare HL7 vs FHIR To make an app interactive for users, text-based resources should be made useful. A list of positive affirmations is not useful. A therapist should be able to view a patient’s journal in real-time allowing them to track their patient’s symptoms and progress.
Compliance with Security Regulations
Mental health is a sensitive topic that demands privacy and confidentiality. Eliminating information exposure risks are paramount when it comes to developing a mental health app. To play it safe, it is a good idea to go for healthcare compliance consulting, so that all security measures and regulations are implemented. Providing users with a breakdown of how, where, and with whom their information is shared is crucial for their safety.
Privacy laws, especially for telehealth companies, vary from country to country. The use of standards-based coding in the application (for example, HL7 Integration, ICD-10, and DICOM) is a sound measure of protecting shared information.
Don’t Forget about the Stigma
Although people are getting more open about mental health issues, the stigma that surrounds this sensitive topic has not been erased. Sufferers still fear the reactions of their peers, employers, and health professionals. This makes it imperative for developers to consider how their app could be used discretely in a public place. For instance, an option to use the app without sound will attract less attention to the user in a public place.
The logo of the app must not scream “Mental Health App” to others who may see the phone. It should be a subtle symbol that makes sense to the user but not to others.
Are Mental Health Apps Evidence-Based?
Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store both contain a total of 293 applications that claim to provide treatment for mental health conditions. However, only 3.41% of these apps had published research that proved their effectiveness, according to NCBI. In other words, not all applications that one finds on the web are evidence-based.
NCBI also revealed that only 20.48% of the mental health apps available online have an institutional affiliation.
What are the Top Mental Health App Ideas?
People have brought the topic of mental health to the spotlight, focusing more on their mental well-being and striving to eliminate the stigma that surrounds this topic. Considering the unpredictable situation today, an increasing number of people are dealing with psychological issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, etc. This means the demand for mental health programs is increasing. According to the latest data, currently, there are more than 20 000 mental health applications in the market.
Statistica states that mental wellness apps were installed more than 215 000 times from November 3 to November 5, 2020, in the US. Here are some of the few trending apps in the market:
- Sleep trackers: These apps allow women to track mood swings and even menstrual cycles. They also provide a list of therapists that women can consult through the platform via video calls or texts.
- Women’s well-being apps: Designed for individuals who face trouble sleeping, sleep trackers provide activities to users such as deep breathing and relaxing music that ease their anxiety.
- Virtual therapy apps: Online therapy apps are designed to make therapy more easily available to individuals allowing users to consult a therapist without leaving their homes.
- Emotional wellness apps: Such apps allow individuals to manage their anxiety and practice exercises to control their stress levels.
- Meditation and stress management apps: During the outbreak of the pandemic, people have turned to meditation apps to manage their stress and anxiety. These apps allow users to reduce stress and understand their feelings better by practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing.
- Self-improvement apps: Such apps allow users to build their self-confidence, overcome fears, relieve their stress, and overcome fears. Common features of these apps include video tutorials, step-by-step guides, and therapists.
Mental Health App Business Plan
Business plans are instrumental in setting benchmarks to measure success. They are the foundation for any business, creating an easy-to-use framework that developers can follow to create a convenient, flawless, and easy-to-navigate application for users. When developing a plan, start with the mission statement of your app. What value do you intend to bring? What makes your app unique?
Don’t forget the marketing strategy for an application, especially for newly established applications. Dedicating several hours per week to the advertisement of your app is the key to attracting more users. A financial model is also an important part of a business plan. Make sure your expenses, costs, and revenues are included in the mental health app business plan.
Evidence-based Mental Health Apps
Not all apps available on the App Store, and Google’s Play Store are reliable and safe to use. Surprisingly, not all of these apps are developed in collaboration with mental health professionals.
Here are some evidence-based mental health apps
- IntelliCare: The app is funded by NIH-funded research.
- Breathe2Relax: focuses on teaching people breathing exercises, and comes from the National Center for Telehealth and Technology.
- CBT-i Coach: the app was developed based on the collaboration of VA’s National Center for PTSD, the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology, and Stanford School of Medicine.
- DBSA Wellness Tracker: this app allows users to track their emotional, physical, and mental health, developed by The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).
- Virtual Hope Box: the National Center for Telehealth & Technology created the app for people suffering from depression.
Mental Health App Structure
In this section, let’s take a look at the common features of mental health apps.
Sign up & Profiles
User policies for mental health apps are often more strict which means the sign-up process needs to be detailed, but not too long that it repels new users.
Details such as phone number, name, or email are enough at the beginning. Other details to form a medical profile of a patient can be collected later on. Take a look at The 10 Components Of Medical Records In A Hospital for details.
Expressing disturbing thoughts is essential for people suffering from a mental health disorder. Adding a diary to throw out one’s emotions is the key to getting better.
However, not all patients can express their feelings through words, so it’s a good idea to include drawing, coloring, and other expressive activities.
Chat and Video Calling
Offering video and voice appointments with mental health specialists allows users to reach out to professionals when in need of counseling. A set of emergency support features can be useful for patients who require urgent help. This could include:
- Quick emergency calling features
- Calling someone from a pre-saved list of contacts
- Live chat support
How to Start a Mental Health Platform?
Starting a mental health platform depends on a variety of factors including the budget, aims, and target audience of a company.
The first step to developing a mental health application is to find the best healthcare mobile app development company that understands your vision and works at a cost that can be afforded by your company.
Want to know about developing a custom software for psychologists in private practice?
How Many Mental Health Apps Exist?
More than 400 million people download mental health apps online according to the World Economic Forum. In the global digital health market, one of the fastest-growing sectors is mental health, with an estimated 10 000 apps currently available.
How do Mental Health Apps Make Money?
Some of the common monetization procedures of mental health apps are listed below:
- Pay to download: Users will have to pay to download and use the app.
- In-app purchases: Users can download the app free of cost but have to pay for certain features.
- Recurring subscriptions: Subscription plans are offered to users on a monthly, or yearly basis with a free trial for a fixed period.
- Advertising: This aspect needs to be carefully thought out cognitive-behavioral because it disrupts user engagement. It could also lead to complete abandonment of the app.
How To Develop a Feature-Rich Mental Health Application?
A feature-rich mental health application can only be developed once the target audience, aims, and the type of app has been decided by the developer. The type of app will determine what features will be included in the application, and what capabilities it will offer to its users. This will enable providers to develop a feature-rich application.