Caregivers’ mental health is a concern for health care professionals and caregiver advocates. Stress, depression, anxiety, and caregiver burnout are the biggest mental health issues. With the COVID-19 pandemic, caregivers have the added stress of physical distancing from those they are caring for, worrying about the health of aging parents and other older relatives, and added responsibilities with the suspension of respite care and adult day program or early hospital discharge. The development of mental health apps is a welcome addition to provide support and interventions for caregivers.
The upside of mental health apps for caregivers
There is much that is good about mental health apps. They can be effective in managing stress and common conditions like anxiety or depression. Also, they are excellent ways to move through some barriers to getting help with mental health, like cost, geography and the stigma that is still attached to mental health struggles.
One of the reasons why caregivers have been reluctant to adopt technology is the cost and the time it can take to sort out the good technology from the bad so to speak. There is some encouraging news for caregivers on 2 fronts when it comes to mental health support:
- With the pandemic, provincial governments and the federal government have made some virtual mental health services, including certain apps, FREE for all Canadians. Increasingly, employers and insurance providers are also offering mental health apps for their employees and clients.
- There has been movement on the evaluation front. Now you can draw on the experts’ evaluation of these apps. You can let them figure out which ones are worth your time and energy.
Mental health apps are plentiful but more isn’t always better
There are over 10,000 apps which focus on mental health that are currently available. How on earth are you going to pick the one that is going to serve you the best? The big problem to date is that they are not regulated, so in some ways, it is the wild west of apps. The 2 big (and they are big) issues to be aware of are:
- Privacy and Data Usage. Data may not be stored securely and may even be shared with third parties
- Many claims have NOT been evaluated (through clinical trials for example). A claim is often more of a marketing appeal than based on best clinical practices and evidence. Currently, only 3 % of mental health apps are associated with a health care organization.
Top tips to guide your app selection
- Be cautious about using the app’s stars ratings and/or number of downloads as the basis for your decision. They are not related to clinical benefit and have quite a low engagement (that is, many people download the app and don’t use it, or stop using it after the first couple of weeks).
- Draw on the experts’ reviews, evaluations and recommendations:
- https://practicalapps.ca/ (this site also evaluates apps for physical conditions like adult asthma and hypertension)
- Check with your family doctor. Many family doctors can recommend a specific apps for your specific needs, and are usually well informed of publicly funded apps and resources. For example, in Ontario, a couple of provincially funded apps include Big White Wall and MindBeacon.
- Reach out to peers. There a number of online communities in which you can receive support and ask for recommendation from others going through similar challenges. Example communities include Patients Like Me and The Mighty.
The virtual world has gotten much larger for many people as an adaptation to the COVID-19 pandemic. It may continue to play a significant role in our health and well-being post-pandemic
We would love to hear about your virtual experiences.