Standards and principles for evaluating mental health apps

Standards and principles for evaluating mental health apps

This post was originally published on the National Elf Service blog. You can find it here. A new ‘Insights’ piece has just been published in World Psychiatry (the Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association) by John Torous et al, in which they seek to propose a consensus for a set of standards and principles for the evaluation of mental health apps (Torous et al, 2019). So why is this consensus piece so timely? As the authors note, whilst there are over 10,000 mental health apps available to download, there are few resources available to help users (people accessing mental health services, practitioners and organisations) evaluate the quality and suitability of these tools and services. It is currently not a straightforward task for users to appraise mental health apps; and how can practitioners confidently recommend digital mental health tools to the people they support, without clarity on minimum standards? It is comparatively easy to design and develop a mobile app, hence their proliferation in the marketplace, but creating a tool that is safeand efficacious is a more significant challenge. Recommendations Through deliberation with experts in the field, the authors have identified four key topic areas where they argue minimum standards should be articulated and met. Their recommendations are summarised below: 1. Data safety and privacy Data storage, use and sharing practices should fulfil healthcare standards for handling patient health information dataStandards must be transparent to the userThe end user must have the option to “opt out” of sharing their informationAny language regarding data storage, use and sharing must be written at a maximum of a 6th grade (year 7 in England) reading levelTechnical security reviews and data audits are necessary to guarantee that apps follow the standards they set out...
Mental distress is on the increase for young people – what part has digital technology got to play?

Mental distress is on the increase for young people – what part has digital technology got to play?

Children and young people’s mental health has been centre stage in the media this week, in the light of a recent survey published by NHS Digital. The report shows a rise in mental health difficulties, coupled with increased waits for contact with mental health specialists. A perfect storm of rising demand and reduced capacity in the system. The report precipitated a flurry of reports in the media calling for the Government to put more resources into young people’s mental health services. A Guardian article identified social media, along with other factors, as potential sources of pressure on young people’s mental health. Another focused on the role of mobile apps such as Calm Harm, and the online counselling service Kooth, in helping young people cope with distress. So what is the role of digital technology in young people’s mental health? Should we be increasing the availability of online services? And are social media good or bad for children? In a recent post I summarised findings from a representative survey of teens age 13-17 entitled Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal their Experiences (Common Sense Media 2018) which found that despite adult assumptions, most teens report social media have a positive effect in their lives, such as making them feel less lonely. And whilst vulnerable teens are more likely to report negative effects of social media (such as bullying) they are nevertheless more likely to report positive benefits, such as feeling less lonely and depressed. Whilst this is an American study, it has parallels to findings from the UK. Social media appear to have a heightened effect (both good and bad)...
Teen mental health in an online world

Teen mental health in an online world

The media is replete with dystopian tales of the negative effects of social media on young people. In a recent speech, Simon Stevens (chief executive of the NHS) suggested that the Government should consider introducing a ‘mental health levy’ to fund NHS treatment of problems fuelled by sites such as Facebook and Instagram. But how accurate is this picture and what does the evidence tell us? Earlier in the year, my co-author James Woollard and I set about understanding the views and experiences of young people with mental health difficulties in our book Teen Mental Health in an Online World. We combined a review of the evidence with a series of qualitative interviews and focus groups with young people. Our mission was to give space to young people’s voices and provide a useful guide to mental health and other practitioners who work with them. Contrary to what one might believe from the media, we found a mixed picture with both positive and negative effects. Our qualitative findings are reflected in a recent representative survey of 1,141 American teens age 13-17  Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences (Common Sense Media 2018) which uncovered some interesting insights. Firstly, most teens say that social media has a positive effect in their lives, such as making them feel less lonely. Secondly, and more relevant to our book, whilst vulnerable teens are more likely to report negative effects of social media (such as feeling left out) they are nevertheless more likely to report the positive benefits of social media in their lives, such as helping them feel less lonely and depressed. Social...
Digital resilience: how health and care practitioners can help teens with mental health difficulties

Digital resilience: how health and care practitioners can help teens with mental health difficulties

I’ve recently written a blog post and report for NHS Digital’s Widening Digital Participation Programme based on a review of the evidence along with interviews and focus groups with young people. The report focuses on digital resilience of teens with mental health difficulties. You can find the blog post here and the full report...
Connected realities – what do practitioners need to know about teens’ online lives?

Connected realities – what do practitioners need to know about teens’ online lives?

“What if we thought about the internet a resource to be deployed rather than as a problem to be solved?” (Jenkins et al, 2016, p.36)  What if we move our focus from a deficit orientated understanding of the online lives of teens to an asset-orientated approach which builds on young people’s strengths? And what does this mean for practitioners working with teens who have mental health difficulties? Perhaps there are better ways of approaching teens’ online lives that enable us to be more effective practitioners. I am endlessly intrigued by teens’ use of the internet, social media and digital technologies. It is a fascination brought about in equal parts from observing my three teenagers and from the many and various projects we do with teens at mHabitat. I am particularly curious about how health and care practitioners help teens navigate the digital sphere (or not) in their everyday work. Practitioners are worried about the impact of social media on teens, concerned about risk, and at the same time drawn to how apps could help deliver care. Meanwhile teens are frustrated about adults’ lack of understanding about their online lives and are looking for guidance and support which is often lacking. This set of disconnected realities between teens and practitioners is the subject of a book I am writing with Dr James Woollard. It is a guide for practitioners to help them explore, understand and appreciate teens’ online lives; and to enable them to incorporate this understanding into their work with adolescents affected by mental health difficulties. The book will bring together the evidence along with stories derived from my...