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How to develop a mental health app?

How to develop a mental health app?

By: Taru M. Taru M.
07 Sep, 2022

Until less than a decade ago, people weren’t talking about mental health as much as they are talking about it now. With the advent of digitization of people’s lives (thanks to social networking), more and more people are talking and are concerned about their mental health.

Inevitably, social networking platforms have inspired people to create safe online spaces. Due to this, slowly but steadily, we are moving towards a world where people are expressing and are being concerned about their mental healthcare and those around them—leaving behind the taboos associated with mental health.

Recently, we have also seen an upsurge in the Mental Health services apps claiming to treat mental illnesses. Is it true? Can mental health apps really help people suffering from depression, anxiety, and other mental issues and what role does a mobile app development company play?

How helpful are Mental Health Apps?

Well, the answer is both yes and no, in a blog published by Havard Business Review; it has been argued that mental health mobile apps may not be able to completely cure the disorder but may help people get aware of the symptoms (if they are having any) and may also help patients in establishing a healthy relationship with their therapist. You cannot completely eliminate the human element from the therapeutic process.

Since the development of mental health apps is still at an infant stage, and have proven to render some assistance in an individual’s mental healthcare journey. In fact, as we move further in this journey of mental health app development, the more optimized they will be able to aid the therapy process of an individual.

Market Analysis of Mental Health Apps

In recent years, especially during and after the catastrophe of the pandemic, there has been a sudden upsurge in demand for mental health care services. According to a KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), at the time of the pandemic, 4 in 10 adults, as compared to 1 in 10 adults in the first half of 2020, reported symptoms of deteriorating mental health such as anxiety and depression.

According to the Organisation for the Review of Care and Health Apps (ORCHA), the use of mental health apps increased up to 200% and continued to grow at the rate of 55% averagely.

Now the question arises—How to develop a mental health app?

Read the complete blog to find out.

Step-by-Step process to develop a mental health app

Step-by-Step process to develop a mental health app

1. Identify your Target Audience

Identifying the target audience is a crucial step any product owner has to undertake right after deciding to create a mental health application.

Devising a target group of people with a specific set of mental illnesses is crucial at this stage. There are two primary reasons for that:

This will help the product owner to identify the scope of mental health mobile apps and the nature of mental health disorders it will address.

Devising the nature of mental health disorders will also enable the product owner to devise the degree of mental health disorders.

All these aspects will also help the product owner to devise the monetary investment it would take to develop the application.

For example, if you, as a product owner, have decided to cater to people who suffer from addiction. Now, addictions could be of different types, which can range from addiction to any form of chemical substance/s to some sort of behavioral addiction.

Now, if you decide to help people addicted to alcohol abuse, your approach and the required monetary investment would differ in case you decide to help people with alcohol and/or prescription abuse.

Therefore, it is significant to ascertain a defined set of groups you wish to address. Other than the factors stated above, you must also determine your audience based on other key demographics, such as age, gender, geographical area, devices, etc.

2. Conduct Human-Centered Research

Once you have determined your target audience, the next step is to conduct research employing the Human-Centered Design approach. Employing this form of research methodologies would help the designer and developers consider the subjectivities and experiences of people with a mental health disorders.

Numerous examples prove that a human-centered approach enables product owners, developers, and designers to develop a more optimized mobile app.

Although there are a variety of research methodologies that can be put to use. But to create a mental health app design, it is suggested the design team conduct participatory research, focus group discussions, and interviews with both the doctors and the patients.

This will provide a more illuminative developmental approach to mental health software.

3. Validate by Prototyping

Once you have collected enough information with respect to your target audience, you can start building prototypes using the Minimum Viable Product process and keep iterating these prototypes using agile methodologies.

Validate your interface, your services, and the nature of the delivery of services by identifying a set of major stakeholders.

It is crucial to experiment as much as possible at this stage because each experiment will result in a much-improved iteration of the application.

4. Developing Stage

After undergoing such comprehensive stages, the mental health app developers can start writing codes for the mental health application.

If you are planning to allow your users to consult with therapists, you can use already available software development kits like Agora or Twilio.

As a developer, one must always run some automated tests on software testing infrastructures such as BrowserStack.

5. Deployment

Once the development stage is over, product owners can start distributing the mental health app on various distribution channels such as Google Play or App Store.

However, the job doesn’t end here, the product owners, developers, and designers should continue to test and iterate the mental health mobile app. They should also keep collecting user feedback and make changes to the app accordingly.

This is essential because both the market and human nature are hugely dynamic and are interdependent on each other. And as a product owner, you must be able to adapt to all these changes.

Significant Features of a good Mental Health app

Significant Features of a good Mental Health app

1. Supportive & Likeable

Language, tonality, and aesthetics of the mental health mobile app are the key areas which the product owner, developers, and designers have to pay special attention.

The app may offer excellent services and features, but if the visual and tonal appeal of the application is not friendly for the user with mental health issues, then the app can prove to be a failure.

2. Data Security & Privacy

Data Security and Privacy are one of the most crucial aspects of a good mental health solutions app. Since people are sharing their sensitive personal information online, it becomes extremely crucial for a mental health app developer to offer relevant security framework such as multi-factor authentications, end-to-end encryption, fraud notifications, etc.

During mental health app development, the product owners, developers, and designers should also be mindful of the region-specific regulations, some of which are:

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)- is applicable to businesses and organizations related to EU regions and to the companies dealing with EU citizens’ data.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA)- This act states the software development compliance regulations for the USA.

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)- This act is Canadian Data Privacy law stating the significant framework for organizations developing software for the Canadian region.

3. Smooth Onboarding

Ensuring a smooth onboarding process is a tricky affair when it comes to mental health apps. This is because people with mental illness might change their minds regarding the app if the onboarding process is too comprehensive.

Therefore, it is suggested to just ask for the phone number and/or email of the mental health app user.

4. Regular Assessments and Report

This becomes one of the most crucial features of mental health apps. Mental health assessments and report generation help the patients and their mental health practitioners track their progress.

Regular check-up questions and interventions also prove beneficial.

5. Digital Journal

A good mental Health app can also offer a diary section where the app user can express their daily thoughts and emotions. This feature is a great way to help people connect with themselves.

Designers and developers should make this feature as much personalized as possible. They can add audio features, drawing features, etc., to help them articulate better and as per their comfort level.

6. Specialist Intervention

Collaborating with a mental health expert provides efficacy to the mental wellness apps. The users, instead of just reading about their symptoms, can have direct audio or video calls with experts and render an enhanced user experience.

7. Comprehensive Video & Audio Content

Mental health solutions app should also offer enriching video or audio content. Using this, the patients can educate and manage themselves better.

Product owners, developers, and designers of mental health apps can also add therapeutic and instructional videos and audios (for eg. tutorials on breathing exercises) which could be used by the patient and those around them when the person suddenly slips into a bad mental state.

8. Emergency Service Access

Mental health app developers should also add features that can also be used in cases of emergency. This could include emergency services numbers, family contact or support line, or mental health professionals contact numbers.

9. Support Groups

Allowing people to connect with other people with similar mental illness can help them believe that they are not alone in this journey—and that it is a safe space for them.

Including features that let the users keep their identity anonymous while engaging with people in these support groups could help them be more comfortable while sharing their experiences, stories, and plight.

10. Notifications

Notifications could act as a reminder to take medications, do daily tasks, or do any such activities. Other than this, mental health apps can also send motivational quotes and daily affirmations to mobile app users.

11. Third-Party Integrations

Enabling integrations with other health and wellness applications could offer a more comprehensive approach to mental health services for the patients.

12. Workflow automation and Dashboard management

To a great extent, mental health apps have automated many functions for professional mental health practitioners. Repetitive functions such as registration and booking of patients, payment processing, and prescription clarification can all be automated with mental health apps that offer such services.

Other than mental health apps can also be dashboard management systems for mental health specialists. The interface for this feature would be different from that of patients. It can provision creating a doctor profile, patient profile (for doctors’ use), scheduling facility, chat feature, and automatically generated patient analytics.

Different types of Mental Health Apps

As a product owner, one should also be aware of the kinds of mental health problems people deal with. It is advisable that a product owner choose one type of mental health issue—the one they feel extremely passionate about and really want to help people suffering from it.

Then, one should conduct thorough research regarding the same, one may consult with various industry professionals such as psychologists and psychiatrists and read books and research papers to thoroughly understand the plight of the people.

Only then should one follow their motive of building a mental health app. There are different types of mental health apps one can create, depending on which group of people you wish to target. Some of which are:

1. Anxiety, Depression & Mood Control

One of the biggest drawbacks of a capitalist economy is the rise in the cases of people suffering from anxiety, depression, and mood swings. According to WHO, in the years ranging from 2005 to 2015, 322 million people worldwide were suffering from depression and 264 million from anxiety.

Mental health mobile app that aim to aid people with anxiety, depression, and mood swings have some kind of self-monitoring features and assessment tests, which help people in ascertaining what they are suffering from—even before they decide to visit a mental health professional.

The users can take assessment tests on a regular basis to keep a check on their mental health. These apps can also offer people to consult with a professional mental health practitioner over an audio or video call.

Apps for anxiety, depression & mood control: Dare, Moodpath: Depression & Anxiety, TalkLife, etc.

2. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

This type of disorder is usually observed in people after they have experienced a shocking, life-changing, scary or dangerous event. Usually, people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD have a fight or flight response in any challenging situation—based on their past traumatic experience/s.

Mental Health apps aiming to help people with PTSD offer cognitive behavior therapy-based coping strategies, symptom managing tools, progress tracker, and enriching resources.

CPT Coach and PE coach are some popular and trustworthy mental health applications that can be used to manage PTSD.

3. Addiction Recovery

Addiction applications can prove to be a great companion for people on their addiction recovery journey. They help sufferers be in control of their addictive habits.

These types of mental health apps help the app user to track their progress and have certain encouraging features which help people to stay on their journey of self-improvement.

These types of mental health apps may also feature certain tools which prevent the mobile app users from relapsing into their addictive patterns.

Some examples of addiction recovery apps: Pear reSET, NowWhat, Sober Grid, etc.

4. Self-Development

Self-development applications are extremely diverse in nature. Some broad categories of self-development applications could be for: increasing patience, concentration, overcoming fears, building a habit, or confidence.

These types of mental health solution apps may provide coaching sessions and help track habits, plans, etc. and inculcate habits of self-monitoring in the mental health app users.

Some of the applications offering seld-development services are Coach.me, Happify, etc.

5. Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are often associated with other types of mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. Eating disorders make people eat too much or not eat all—which might also lead to other forms of physical health and chronic illnesses.

Mental health apps that help people deal with eating disorders give users recommendations about what to eat and what not to eat. People are also able to set reminders and eating goals to manga their eating habits and patterns.

Lifesum, Rise up & Recover are a few examples of eating disorder apps.

6. Meditation & Mindfulness

More and more people are trying to escape from the hustle culture and are trying to find their true inner selves. People are trying to meditate more to help themselves with stress, introspect, and attain inner peace.

There are many mental health applications which are helping people on this journey. These types of apps feature a variety of content, such as affirmations, stories, calming music, and breathing and self-calming exercises.

Calm, Insight Timer, and Headspace are some of the popular meditation and mindfulness mental health apps.

7. Suicide Prevention App

Helping people with suicidal tendencies is a sensitive task. Depending on the seriousness of the situation and condition a suffer is in, they can use a Suicide Prevention App.

These types of mental health applications have distracting tools, emergency calling facilities, tests to determine suicidal tendencies, and guidelines for people who often find themselves coming to fatal decisions.

All in all, these apps are also a great way to educate and make oneself and those around us respect people suffering from such thoughts.

Mental health app that offers suicide prevention services-notOk.

8. Bipolar Disorder Apps

People suffering from bipolar disorder experience erratic and sudden changes in their mood, which often becomes challenging for patients and those around them.

Mental health apps for people suffering from bipolar disorder enable them to keep track of their moods, depressive symptoms, irritability, etc., throughout the day. Some applications also deliver monthly reports, which can be of great help to the patients and their mental health medical professionals.

Popular mental health apps that help patients with the disorder are IMood Journal and Moody.

9. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Apps

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD is the kind of disorder that prompts the sufferers to have uncontrollable obsessions or compulsions that they tend to repeat over and over again.

Mental health app offer help to OCD patients by providing them with clinically supported guidelines to manage their OCD urges and also offer them to take regular tests to help them keep a check on the severity of their OCD.

nOCD is one of the most popular OCD management mental health app available.

10. Autism Apps

Autism differs from person to person in terms of symptoms and degree. Symptoms may include speech delays or absence, lack of interest in human relationships, inability to understand social cues, fixated on repetitive behaviors, avoiding eye contact, and feeble motor skills.

There are many clinically approved apps, such as LAMP, Todo Visual Schedule by Enuma Inc, etc., that are helping people with autism overcome their difficulties or at least make a living comfortably for them. You can also read our blog on 6 Clinically Approved Autism Apps.

There is a lot of research and careful curation that goes into an app that caters to individuals suffering from some or other kind of mental health issues. Therefore, the development of these apps should be undertaken with utmost sensitivity and responsibility.

Taru M. Author
Taru M.

For over 18 years, Taru M. is a successful technology entrepreneur by profession and a tech enthusiast by spirit. She takes pride in offering expertise in her domain to business people's success across the globe. As a business woman and technology expert, she manages to keep her balance along with her family responsibilities. She did her masters in computers, and her work delivery shows the expertise of her education. Connect with her via Linkedin profile to know more about her exciting personality

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