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An update on mental health apps

Mental health apps will never replace the skills and expertise of trained health professionals. But the number of available apps is increasing. So, are there some useful ones that you can recommend to patients as additional support?

In a previous blog we looked at some of the mental health apps available and how they might support psychologists, mental health nurses and other health professionals. At the time, there was a mixed picture, with much skepticism about their effectiveness and only a handful of the many available apps being officially endorsed by the NHS.

Technology develops at a rapid pace. So, two years or so later, has the situation changed? What's the current thinking on mental health apps and have any exciting newcomers appeared? We thought it was time to take another look.

"The mental health app marketplace is very messy," explained André Tomlin of the Mental Elf health policy and research website in a recent interview with The Guardian. "Appropriate apps, can be hard to find. If you go to the App Store and browse in the health and wellbeing section, what you’ll get is a ton of yoga and sex apps.”

The NHS continues to test its apps library, which has a section dealing with mental health apps, including Be Mindful, a web-based training programme that focuses on cognitive behavioural therapy, and BlueIce, a prescribed, evidence-based app to help young people manage their emotions and reduce urges to self-harm.

20 NHS trusts across the UK are already using Healios, which delivers mental health support via an online video link. People with a serious mental health problem who are referred for treatment by a GP may be given the option to receive therapy through the Healios platform, reducing waiting times and relieving pressure on overstretched NHS resources.

Rather than being therapy based, many of the more popular mental health apps are those that provide supportive online communities. For example, the charity Mind has Elefriends, which provides a safe place to share experiences and listen to others. In addition, the Brighton-based charity Grassroots has created the Stay Alive app, a pocket suicide prevention resource. It can be used by people with suicidal thoughts or anyone who knows somebody who may be considering taking their own life.

The biggest issue with mental health apps remains the challenge of evaluating their clinical effectiveness. NHS England continues to assess a range of apps with a view to giving some of them official approval. However, that involves talking to health professionals, patients and organisations such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), so it's taking time. "It is a rigorous process," said Juliet Bauer, Chief Digital Officer at NHS England. “If we want to recommend them to the public, we need to know that they’re safe and secure, and effective and easy to use."

Do you use any apps to support your professional practice? If you have any that you would recommend, please let us know using the comments box below
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