The evolution of mental health apps and group protection


The past decade has seen digital technology bring health and wellbeing apps to the workplace. Broadly, these smartphone apps fit into three categories: ‘digital health’, ‘digital doctor’ and 'digital mental health’.

The evolution of mental health apps and group protection

Digital health apps aim to track and improve an employee’s health by managing specific conditions and fitness priorities. Digital doctor apps can offer employees access to video consultations with a doctor, combined with additional services. Digital mental health apps are designed to build cognitive and behavioural skills which can improve wellbeing, and it is these types of apps that are growing in popularity at a time when open discussions about mental health issues have become more culturally acceptable.

How interactivity defines mental health apps

In recent years, many well-known individuals have publicly discussed their private struggles with anxiety and depression. From the entertainment world to the Royal Family, people like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Bruce ‘The Boss’ Springsteen, to Prince Harry have all described their personal challenges in this area. 

In video games, ‘Sea of Solitude’ and ‘Celeste’ are part of a growing trend for dynamic new content which confronts mental health issues. Here, the interactive component is crucial. Embodying a video game character who suffers from depression can have a deeper impact than passively watching a show about the same character. And it’s the interactive element that helps define smartphone apps for mental health issues. These apps can be sourced independently by employers or offered by group protection providers through workplace protection policies.

NHS Digital’s strict clinical and security standards

Mental health apps have developed fast. They first became available to download on mobiles in 2008, and today there are many different mental health apps on the market.

For group protection providers and employers alike, who are truly focused on employee wellbeing, it’s essential to select the best app for the task, and that’s where NHS Digital steps in. Although health apps are not supplied by the NHS, it’s widely accepted that the NHS Digital’s Apps Library is the ‘go to’ place for reliable, objective information. It’s here you’ll find trusted mental health and wellbeing apps that have been assessed using rigorous standards. Hard evidence is required about clinical safety, security and technical stability, as well as information about the clinical, economic or behavioural benefits. And when an app is improved or modified, it is reassessed. Currently, only 20 mental health apps are listed by NHS Digital

Apps linked to Employee Assistance Programmes add value

It’s important to stress that mental health apps are no substitute for face-to-face therapy. However, if used well, they can make a real difference if they succeed in helping employees manage stress, anxiety and related conditions or help them keep on top of their mental health. Some apps will even link with Employee Assistance Programmes which provide access to suitable psychiatric help.

When it comes to effectiveness, it’s also worth considering that face-to-face therapy relies on retrospective questioning about stress. Mental health apps however, can record the user’s emotional inputs in-the-moment, rather than them having to wait for the next session to accurately recall their thoughts and feelings.

To sum up, mental health apps have come a long way in the past decade, along with the rigorous clinical standards required by NHS Digital. At the same time, mental wellbeing has become part of the conversation in more and more organisations.

As we begin the 2020s, this open dialogue looks set to continue throughout the next decade, with group protection providers helping businesses help their employees, by utilising sophisticated, effective mental health apps. It’s all set to make a big difference to employee wellbeing, which is great news.     

The author is Eddie Elias-Kean, group protection account manager at Aviva, who is experienced in overseeing the relationships and successful end-to-end support of some of its largest intermediary partners.

This article is provided by Aviva.

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