Mental Health App Development: Types, Features, and Process

The popularity of mental health apps was fueled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Irrespective of the pandemic situation, millions of people living in the USA are affected by mental illness each year.

In 2020, 21 percent of the US adults experienced mental illness (that’s 1 in 5 adults), and 5.6 percent of the US adults faced serious mental health problems (that’s 1 in 20 adults). These aspects are driving the need for mental health app development.

Types of Mental Health Apps

1. Mental Self-Improvement Apps

Mental self-improvement applications are aimed at relieving minor issues such as bad habits, frustration, mild stress and anxiety levels, negative thoughts, and more. Self-improvement apps have features such as meditation techniques, interactions with therapists, and guidance sessions for self-care solutions.

Mental self-improvement apps are created to bolster mood and to change negative thinking. A journal feature makes it easier to track mood, thoughts, and to manage stress. These apps come with live video sessions with therapists, with 24/7 access to treatment, however costs may differ from app to app.

Mindfulness is another solution included in the self-improvement application; courses on basics of mindfulness, dealing with distractions, coping with craving, and better sleep is included in the application.

2. Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Relief Apps

Goals of stress, anxiety, and depression relief apps are to deal with extreme mental disturbances such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), severe case of anxiety, suicidal thoughts and attempts, and depression stage. These applications help users to –

a. Embed activities and games

b. Develop a better and strong state of mind

c. Take assessment tests

d. Overcome depression

e. Prevent suicide

Dealing with severe mental health issues is easier said than done, hence a wide range of features are integrated and custom built during the application development process for users. Telepsychology is growing fast due to its remote patient care feature, virtual reality (VR), and artificial intelligence (AI) built therapy sessions.

With VR and AI designed live therapy sessions, patients experience augments and puts them at ease. The ability to change surroundings in VR technology, helps to create a soothing environment for patients.

3. Addiction Recovery Apps

Addiction recovery apps are developed with the objective to provide positive messages and support. By integrating features such as reward points, schedule reminders, and goal planning, counselors and healthcare providers are able to manage patient progress. Addiction recovery apps offer real-time communication and support for those who are finding it difficult to recover from their conditions.

Goal planning feature helps patients to set long-term aims work towards achieving it with the right mindset. Other features and functionalities that can be included in addiction recovery apps are automatic messages, daily progress tracker, habits and triggers of addiction, vulnerable tracker, and more.

These features are patient-centric, encouraging them to track milestones and progress achieved to live an addiction-free life. Developers can include provider-centric functionalities such as live sessions, appointment bookings, and eprescriptions for a wholesome experience for both.

Crucial Features of Mental Health App

1. User Profile and Sign-in

Consider developing an easy and short sign-in process. However, its crucial to get basic data such as name, email, contact number, and medical history if any. Profile for each user helps to keep all vital medical information in one place. Make it interesting by adding additional functionalities such as profile picture, age, and gender.

Depending on the healthcare provider, other features such as file upload for lab reports can be integrated as well on the user profile.

2. Self-Monitoring

Self-monitoring feature helps patients to be more aware, generate curiosity, and consciousness within themselves. Awareness promotes responsible actions amongst patients for their behavior, and revel problematic nature that can be rectified by patients.

Self-monitoring features helps to keep an account of past performance and goals, striving to break past previous records and do much better in the present condition.

Times when self-monitoring doesn’t help, its advisable to directly consult a therapist. Healthcare providers can keep a track of patients’ health by customizing mental health app and integrating RPM (Remote Patient Monitoring).

Trackers for sleep, mood, and trigger checker helps providers to analyze the root cause of the issue and treat as per symptoms. To create an ideal and personalized mental health app, determine goals and target audience beforehand.

3. Support Communities

Adding a feature for patients that allows them to connect with like minded people or with those who are facing similar mental health issues augments the process of mental healing. Online support groups are frequent in meetups and allows flexible participation. It provides opportunities for people who may not have access to face-to-face support groups.

Plus a degree of privacy is maintained in online meetups. Mental health app development team can collaborate with support communities and integrate this feature for patients.

Online communities maybe susceptible to misinformation, data leak, and information overload, however with adequate measures such as HIPAA and HITECH compliance, these issues can be resolved. Consider adding chats, forums, and messages features under support communities during the mental health application development.

4. Dashboard For Healthcare Providers

The way a doctors’ dashboard works is different from the way a patients’ dashboard runs. A single dashboard encompassing all patient data is convenient to look at and track treatment outcomes.

A medical dashboard showcases data is a way that its easier to understand essential aspects. A graphical view helps to manage patients’ information. Data is collected from patients and lab results, which is then analyzed by psychologists and counselors.

Its an effective method to enhance clinicians’ performance and improve patient satisfaction rate as well. EHR/EMR integrated dashboards, along with an appointment scheduler makes healthcare dashboard extremely personalized.

5. Relaxing Exercises and Games

Relaxing meditation techniques in mental health apps have become a part of the daily routine for users. Simple yoga, breathing exercises, and calming music helps users to start off the day on a positive note.

Along with this, interactive games with serene designs ameliorates cognitive skills of patients. These factors can be incorporated during mental health app development.

Process of Mental Health App Development

1. Define Target Audience

Directly reaching out to those interested in mental health app ultimately puts money in pockets. Hence, understanding their needs and pain points helps to decide how to deliver applications. Get an idea what can relate to users – message tone, content, design, and services.

By striking a chord with users, personal connection can be established, and thereby trust created. Determining target audience helps developers to decide which type of mental health app to develop – self-improvement, addiction recovery, or anxiety relief.

Consider fusing three aspects while understanding the target audience –

a. End-user

b. Issue

c. What’s the mental state of mind?

Based on audience and issues, functionalities, features, scalability, and outreach is likely to differ.

2. Connect With Expert Mental Health App Developers

While looking to partner with experts in the field of mental health app development, ensure to shortlist those who comply with HIPAA standards. Mental health apps contains sensitive patient information which requires high level security and protection.

Further, if choosing to outsource a development team, look for professionals who can develop application with exceptional interoperability. To assess for interoperability consider checking integration frameworks, integration standards, and semantic knowledge.

Experts in healthcare application development are a notable choice as they are aware of privacy and security rules that fall under HIPAA. Additionally, they’ve a fair knowledge of the healthcare industry.

3. Features and Functionalities

List out common and required features for mental health app development. While custom health app development, checklist of features and testing them with a prototype allows to verify designs. Therefore, ensuring that the application works as intended.

Crucial features required for the mental health application are listed above. A prototype with all the features and functionalities helps to determine duration and cost of the entire project.

Integrating essential features such as self-monitoring, user profile, or providers’ dashboard, improves patients’ health by generating awareness about their state. Doctors and counselors can analyze and treat patients by bringing entire data under one roof.

4. Coding and Designing

Designing standards for a mental health app imply simplicity and minimalism. Bright colors and elaborated elements are avoided as it can be a cause for mental triggers. Prefer mild and relaxing sounds over loud or sharp sounds.

Consider setting up DevOps or Agile methodology for streamlining the development process. Further, checklist for tech stack needed are –

a. Hosting

b. Server

c. Backend

d. Frontend

e. Prototyping

5. HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA rules addresses disclosures and uses of mental health information for treatment and other purposes. Under HIPAA, the mental health guidance speaks of three vital aspects –

a. How data related to mental health is handled under HIPAA?

b. When is the information related to mental health shared with family and friends of an individual?

c. Under which circumstances mental health data is disclosed for safety and health purposes?

HIPAA rules allows caregivers, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and counselors to use their expertise to identify potential risk for patients who exhibit a behavior that demonstrates harm to safety and health.

6. Testing and Maintenance

Testing a crucial part of the application development process. Mental health apps are tested for –

a. Performance

b. Functional

c. Stress

d. Units

Post testing, application is ready for users. App can be uploaded across Google and Apple Play Store as per target audience and functionality of mental health application. Developers need to track its performance to avert future problems with the app. Address customer concerns and requests also fall under the maintenance category.

7. Cost of Mental Health App Development

Calculating costs is challenging as each case is a unique one, and unexpected expenses can pop up any time. However, by taking note of certain aspects that can influence the cost of mental health app can be helpful –

a. Complexity and number of features

b. Third-party integrations

c. Technology used for development

d. Cost of hiring a development team

Taking these factors into account, approximately, it costs around $60,000 to $80,000 for a relatively simple mood tracking and self-monitoring application. Consider MVPs before divulging in the application development process.

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