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Apps portray mental health issues as commonplace and easy to manage

July 10, 2018

A new analysis finds that mental health apps convey two dominant messages: that virtually everyone has some type of mental health problem and that individuals can easily manage those problems by using an app. An interpretive analysis of 61 popular mental health apps in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia found that apps predominantly addressed anxiety, panic, and stress (56 percent) and/or mood disorders (26 percent). Apps presented mental health problems as psychological symptoms, a risk state, or lack of achievement in life. They tended to medicalize normal mental states, with a focus on abnormal responses to mild triggers rather than external stressors. Apps encouraged frequent use and promoted personal responsibility for improvement. Therapeutic strategies included relaxation, cognitive guidance, and self-monitoring. While mental health problems were framed as present in everyone, in promotional materials "everyone" was predominantly represented as employed, white, and in a family. In light of the tremendous popularity of mental health apps, the authors suggest that doctors emphasize to patients that self-help is just one aspect of a supportive mental health approach.
Mental Health Messages in Prominent Mental Health Apps
Lisa Parker PhD MBBS, et al
The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

American Academy of Family Physicians

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