If you are a start-up looking to develop a mobile mental health application or wish to update an existing solution for your mental healthcare services, you can find helpful tips and ideas here.
As of 2020, nearly 1 billion people lived with mental disorders. In low-income countries, only 1 out of 4 could receive treatment. Millions of people die due to alcohol abuse every year, and one person commits suicide every minute. The COVID-19 pandemic had an additional negative effect on many people and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental disorders.
What looks like alarming stats presents an opportunity for mental health app development.
As our lifestyle becomes increasingly fast-paced and stressful, the older population grows, and the governments’ and public awareness of mental health increases worldwide, so does the use of specialized applications.
For example, from January to April 2020, downloads of the top 20 mental well-being apps in the US grew by 29%. Even after the pandemic peak and worldwide quarantines, the popularity and profitability of these apps are still rising. The global mental health apps market size is expected to expand at a CAGR of 16.5% from 2022 to 2030 and reach $17.5 billion USD by 2030.
Mental health mobile apps aren’t designed to diagnose a condition or substitute a mental health professional’s services. Instead, they offer information, techniques, activities, and encouragement to help users manage their stress and nurture their overall mental health or get extra support between therapy sessions or after therapy.
This guide offers helpful information for entrepreneurs looking to update or create a mental health app from scratch. Let’s start with the reasoning.
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Mental health monitoring app development is a win-win option both for businesses and users. Here are several benefits for the present and potential audiences:
Mental health apps offer flexibility and can be a life-saver during quarantine or when visits are problematic. The use of apps limits the number of participants or even excludes anybody except the user from the therapy process.
Telehealth apps are especially good for people who may feel ashamed of their symptoms and problems. They can choose a mental health professional without opening up in front of others or even without a face-to-face consultation and interact with them from the comfort of their home. It’s also easier to conceal than visits to a counselor. This instills in people the confidence necessary for seeking help and resolving their issues.
Many mental health apps are backed by scientific research, proven therapy techniques, and specialists. At the least, they help improve a patient’s mood and develop better-coping skills.
Digital psychological help providers offer effective alternatives to traditional therapy sessions or clinical treatment. They are easy to use, facilitate access to patients’ data, and increase engagement in treatment plans. Live patient-therapist communication and symptoms monitoring via a mental health monitoring app make treatment more manageable and effective.
Receiving assistance for stress, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc., at home is liberating and productive. Having a 24/7 online doctor or support within their smartphones helps patients feel free and secure, improving their condition. For example, of 21% of US adults who reportedly used a teletherapy service in 2021, 63% found it effective.
Remote therapy app development became most relevant during the pandemic, but its benefits extend to normal conditions. Virtual interactions between mental health professionals and patients reduce the risks for both, e.g., in the case of patients with violent behavior.
Mental health apps are mostly free or low-cost. Online therapy sessions are likely a more affordable option than seeing a therapist in person, and there’s no need to travel.
When answering the question of how to create a mental health app, you should think about the benefits. The perks for businesses and healthcare providers are equally significant:
Mental health professionals appreciate the benefits of taking their practice online. For example, the Talkspace platform saw a 5-fold increase in applications from therapists between mid-March and May 1, 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. The massive smartphone penetration allows reaching more locations where mental health treatment is required.
Patients that feel insecure will prefer using digital therapy due to perceived higher confidentiality, others due to its convenience.
Even a basic app can be helpful in data recording and monitoring. Moreover, there’s evidence that mental health apps may help improve the management of several conditions. Specialists can receive regular updates on their patients’ general well-being, the severity of symptoms, etc., and constantly keep in touch with their patients. They can build a bigger picture of a patient’s mental state and adjust the treatment accordingly. Read Also: Clinical Trial Management Software as a Service
Mental health apps also facilitate automation, reduce the workload on therapists and psychiatrists, and offer greater control over the patients’ health data.
Read also: The Importance of Data Security in Healthcare Software
If these benefits seem sufficient or you have more reasons for psychological therapy app development, you may be wondering how you can do it and how much it may cost.
The development of any mental health solution begins with identifying the critical problems it should solve, and the business needs it should meet. These factors determine the future solution’s feature set. A study of popular mobile apps in relevant categories on Google Play or App Store should be helpful, giving you ideas about the key features, user interfaces, etc.
Understanding the types of applications make it possible to build the right business plan for your mental health app. These apps can be classified by the issues they address, e.g., depression, anxiety, or co-occurring disorders, and further subdivided by their core methodology or the type of assistance they provide, e.g., connecting patients with therapists, activities for controlling stress, etc.
Apps of this kind are designed specifically for users tackling diagnosed illnesses and disorders or their combinations, such as
These apps usually use proven treatment methods, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), acceptance commitment therapy (ACT), positive psychology techniques, etc., and focus on tracking patients’ mental well-being in as much detail as possible. An app can help patients and their counselors monitor and analyze their mood ups and downs over some period, detect exacerbation stages, keep a journal, practice mindfulness and cognitive skills training, etc.
The functionalities of these apps largely depend on the specifics of the disorder. For example, persons with PTSD are likely to need constant support and help with anger management, so the specialized apps may offer breathing exercises and integrate the user’s contacts for immediate assistance. Notable examples of such specialized apps are ACT Coach and PTSD Coach.
Diet apps for people with eating disorders help set eating goals and meals calendar and keep records of the meals, thoughts, and feelings. They offer coping methods, educational content, recommendations, daily affirmations, and connect with the user’s treatment team. Some references include Brighter Bite, RR: Eating Disorder Management, and Rise Up + Recover.
If you intend to help people with OCD, you might drive inspiration from Liberate: My OCD Fighter or NOCD. The app may include exposure-response techniques, tools for patient-therapist cooperation, clinically supported guidance, motivational help, recognition of anxiety triggers, feelings tracker, mindfulness activities, etc.
MoodKit and MoodTools are examples of m-health apps dealing with depression. A product in this group can offer assessment tests, various activities and games designed to boost a user’s mood and help change negative thinking, a journal feature to track their progress, features for therapy appointment booking, virtual therapy sessions, and more.
When developing a mental health symptom tracker app, it may help to explore CBT Thought Record Diary, eMoods Bipolar, and iMoodJournal; these apps are primarily for patients with bipolar disorder.
These apps aim at checking general psychological health and preventing major issues by reducing stress, anxiety, and frustration, improving sleep, increasing self-awareness, patience, concentration, and self-confidence, and coping with fears, negative thoughts, cravings, and bad habits like smoking, drinking, using drugs, or caffeine consumption.
These apps primarily bet on relaxation and meditation techniques but may also track users’ emotions, sleep patterns, habits, and symptoms and connect users with psychologists to facilitate proper self-care.
The features of these apps also differ based on the app’s narrower specialization. For example, stress and anxiety apps offer meditations, mini-games, relaxation techniques, music for relaxation and sleep improvement, the user’s meditations and happiness score tracking, reminders of scheduled sessions, motivational plans, journals, coping cards, educational content, and so on.
Apps helping overcome stress seem to be most numerous and varied. Happify and Headspace seem to be the most well-known examples, but there are also Breathe2Relax, Buddhify, Calm, Insight Timer, MindShift, Stop, Breathe & Think, and What’s Up.
Apps supporting addiction recovery, such as Twenty-Four Hours a Day, provide trackers, daily reminders, meditations, educational materials, uploading drug or alcohol blood tests, communication with professionals and a community of supporters, and even graphs showing how much quitting the habit has saved.
The first type of app in this category that comes to mind is telemedicine platforms. Patients can find a suitable mental health specialist in online marketplaces, order individual therapy, couple sessions, psychiatry consultation, etc., and get professional help through messaging and audio or video consultations. For this purpose, the app must amass, maintain and manage a big network of mental health specialists.
For example, BetterHelp and Talkspace provide direct access to a specialist 24/7 via messaging, chat room, or phone or video sessions.
7 Cups enables users to receive anonymous emotional support and counseling from trained listeners 24/7.
People with mental disorders may feel alone because nobody else seems to share their pain, fears, and other experiences. A mental health app can help by providing a social network or forum where people can share their stories and connect with others through anonymized forums, group chats, and messages.
An app can also aggregate resources about specific disorders, therapy, and mental health, in general, to educate the public and various groups of patients.
Anxiety, depression, and other conditions must be clinically diagnosed, but assessment tests can help determine whether an individual has any symptoms. Mental health testing and self-assessment apps can help identify mental problems and urge individuals to seek help from a corresponding specialist.
These are only the most typical use cases. If your idea for a new mental health solution isn’t on the list, please feel free to contact Onix. Our specialists will help you formulate your product’s unique value proposition and prioritize its features.
It’s more practical to develop a mental health app covering multiple mental issues and offering various solutions to the end-users’ problems. Alternatively, you may launch a minimum viable product (MVP) addressing one issue first. Once it gains traction and builds trust among patients and mental health professionals, you may expand its scope and service catalog.
Whether you develop an app to track mental health of teenagers or a meal planner for people with anorexia, you are most likely to include in your mobile app some of the following.
An ideal sign-up process should be easy, short, and secure. The app needs to get critical information, such as full name, phone number, and email, and limit the length of forms and the number of onboarding steps, lest people with mental health issues should get frustrated and abandon the app. Nevertheless, it’s critical to take new users through the instructions and services step-by-step, clearly describing the mental health app features.
Patient profiles are essential both for the users and mental health professionals they may deal with. After registration, users may need to upload a photo, indicate their age, gender, and pronouns, enter their health details, such as disorders, allergies, intolerances, chronic illnesses, etc., and even attach blood tests, specialists’ reports, prescriptions, etc.
You may also obtain some user details that will help you provide a more personalized app experience, e.g., their sleeping/awake times. Patients may be reluctant to share their information, so consider obtaining crucial info from their social media profiles and other sources.
Offer shortcuts to user data, progress, most-used features, and favorite content in the user profile. In the settings, users should be able to customize their experience, e.g., by configuring the types and frequency of notifications, selecting a splash screen theme, interface colors, etc.
Content related to meditations, breathing exercises, stretching and yoga workouts, prayers, sleep, etc., and general information on specific mental issues and well-being can be provided in various formats: texts, photos, audio recordings, videos, radio podcasts, live streams, etc. The app may also produce on-demand content, such as educational guides, lectures, webinars, etc.
Develop a smart classification and search for users to find desired information or content quickly and easily, without scrolling through long lists.
It’s important to rotate the content regularly and make it as diverse, personalized, and customizable as possible, e.g., offering meditations of various durations, including ‘like/dislike’ and ‘save’ buttons, suggesting content similar to what users like, etc.
Self-monitoring enables users to identify potentially dangerous situations, work out effective reactions, and develop good mental health habits. This includes tools tracking users’ mood patterns, stress levels, sleep, triggers, etc.
For example, a user can track their activities, evaluate their moods throughout the day, and examine how diet, workouts, or external factors can affect their feelings. A trigger checker enables the analysis of stressful situations that trigger inappropriate actions.
Psychiatrists often “prescribe” journaling, and many people also enjoy writing a diary to splash out or analyze emotions and thoughts, so app journals are a handy solution. Mood journals can be textual and in video and audio formats; users can also draw in the app. Enable sharing these materials with a specialist or caregiver in the app or via another platform.
It may be reasonable to establish daily check-ups with general questions, questions specific to each disorder, symptoms, or goal, and a section for comments. The app can store these check-ups over time to track the dynamics and even predict changes in a patient’s well-being.
Mental health monitoring usually implies manual data entry but can be synchronized with a sleep analyzing device, emotion recognition applications, step counter, wearables, etc., to get accurate metrics to analyze patterns and customize the treatment plans.
An app can also offer users to take regular assessment tests in the form of surveys or even short video calls with specialists and include functionality like calendars, daily/weekly/monthly to-do lists, and reminders to facilitate self-monitoring awareness.
For example, the mental health tracking app UX often features a monthly calendar that shows the user’s mood changes summarized in color code, with the ability to export this data for therapists to improve patient care.
A day counter can show how long a patient remains sober. Progress bars will motivate them to continue a planned activity to the end. A mood chart should demonstrate the efficiency of specific medicines or therapy.
Many apps connect users with psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and other certified specialists. Patients may look for them in the app’s database using criteria like specialization, qualifications, fees, location, schedules, etc. Alternatively, the app’s algorithm can automatically match a user’s condition and requirements with an appropriate specialist.
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It should be easy to schedule face-to-face or virtual therapy sessions and receive support between sessions right from the device. Enable file exchange between the patients and specialists.
Ideally, a patient must be able to chat, send audio messages, call, or video-call with their counselor or at least with a consultant 24/7. A chatbot may prove effective at answering frequently asked questions, scheduling appointments, playing word games with users that want entertainment, and other tasks.
Apart from the basic functionality of video calls, you might need a real-time chat during sessions and screen recording so that patients and specialists can rewatch their sessions.
Online support groups and forums allow users to share their experiences and achievements with peers, seek advice, encourage each other, etc., in a safe virtual environment. Let users be anonymous on these forums or audio chats if they want. You can add a ‘bad word filter’ to preclude bullying, provocative phrases, swear words, etc., and a censoring engine to prevent the publication of nudity, violence, and other inappropriate images.
Notifications, reminders, and alerts are essential for keeping up with appointments, taking medicines, establishing a regular schedule, self-monitoring, and journaling. Push notifications can entice users to open the app by asking how their day is going, motivating and cheering them up with reports of their achievements, inspiring quotes, and affirmative messages, and promoting special offers, goods, services, discounts, etc.
Patients who have anxiety or panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, and other problems that require immediate solutions should be able to make an emergency call or send a message to their counselor and caregivers with one click.
For example, it may be a quick emergency call to 911, someone from a pre-saved list of contacts, or the 24/7 support of your service.
Mental health professionals and healthcare providers also need a web or mobile app to interact with patients. There are two ways to create a psychological therapy app for them:
In any case, creating a mental health app for professional users should mirror the patients’ interface, including the following:
Sign-up shall also be quick, secure, and preferably connected to a social account.
A detailed user profile is a must because when patients look for a specialist, they should know about their experience, expertise, credentials, languages, etc. The minimum necessary information can include:
Specialists need to manage their workload and timetable conveniently. This feature should be integrated with a calendar where they can manage appointments, leave notes, etc.
It’s also possible to integrate this feature with 3rd-party platforms, for example, to transfer new users’ data to your existing CRM automatically.
The management of a treatment process requires access to an extended patient profile with their medical history, current diagnosis, prescriptions, lab results, documents, photos, etc. Mental health professionals should also instantly receive reports, assessments by other doctors, and other information necessary for monitoring a patient’s condition and managing their therapy.
It’s recommended to divide patients into three categories:
It’s good to make these lists customizable for each specialist to manage them according to their preferences and create more patient lists.
A specialist should be able to talk to their patient via audio/video call or live chat. It is helpful to share files within chats. Many healthcare apps use a chatbot to ask users about their symptoms and concerns first, so doctors can better understand the problem before a direct conversation.
Professionals may need an extended version of the communication feature because they can have many patient chats active simultaneously, talk with other doctors, etc. As with patient profiles, chats can be new, current, and inactive. Additionally, you might add a bar for notes: during calls, counselors would write down important information that can be added to the patient’s profile on the specialist’s app.
Dashboards are usually web apps where professionals collect various information from the patients’ smartphones to monitor their progress, generate reports, adjust the therapy, etc.
Specialists also need the right metrics to track, manage, and optimize various aspects of their practice, such as:
Allow professionals to customize their dashboard according to their practice area and personal preferences.
Professionals may need to upload, update, and delete various content. A simple web page can be a convenient solution.
The app’s administrators will also need a web application to manage the users’ roles and individual profiles, manage the app’s content, monitor activities, moderate chats, run reports and analytics, etc.
Mental health app developers can use a variety of programming languages, frameworks, libraries, and integrations. The list of options includes, but is not limited to:
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3rd party integrations:
Entrepreneurs and product developers need to approach mental health app development with extreme caution and precision. It’s essential to explore and assess the methods of dealing with certain disorders that have undergone medical testing by practicing doctors and were proven effective. It is more cost-efficient and safe to recreate an approved method within the app than to invent the wheel or something impractical.
An app must use only evidence-based psychotherapy techniques and supply only relevant, reliable, and up-to-date information and content. App owners must constantly keep the content fresh and prevent tampering by unauthorized persons.
Healthcare services within the app must be provided exclusively by professionals with valid licenses.
Hiring consultants among qualified medical specialists and experts in the legal aspects of healthcare in the target market will increase your app’s efficiency and help you avoid civil or even criminal penalties associated with violations.
Subscriptions. Most top-performing mental health test apps stick with a subscription revenue model. It implies monthly or yearly payments to access constantly replenished content and services. An app usually offers several regular and customized payment plans (e.g., basic, medium, and premium). It’s important to find a balance between upselling a subscription and offering value to users. The app may have to accept various types of insurance.
Freemium. This is the second most common monetization option. Usually, a freemium app provides a limited range of features for free. If users want more functions or content, they must buy it through a subscription or one-time purchase. There may also be a trial period when users can access all content and all functionality for free. Usually, it lasts up to two weeks, after which customers should pay for using the app permanently.
In-app ads. Advertising banners or widgets can obstruct any user’s engagement, but patients with mental disorders may dislike them so much they’ll abandon the app altogether. You can use them in self-improvement apps, but still, it’s important to choose a trustworthy ads provider to display materials that are relevant and can have a positive effect on users.
Related services. An app can also advertise and sell through internal links to products like books, podcasts, workshops, merch, etc.
Pay to download. If your company is directly providing mental health services, has an established reputation and can convert clients to app users, or has celebrities on board, this may be a viable choice. Explore the competition to set the price: you need to provide something better while keeping the price close. However, paid downloads provide more money upfront but not over time.
Most often, mental health app developers start with a free MVP with basic features. Once it gains traction, you can develop more advanced features that users would wish to pay for.
Health data security is one of the top priorities during mental health app development: patients and doctors are going to share sensitive information through your app. Moreover, people with mental health disorders like PTSD, anxiety, paranoia, etc., are extremely sensitive to privacy.
Particularly, mental health app developers must prevent the risk of exposing personal data by following certain regulatory guidelines:
… and so forth, depending on where your business is based and in what countries your app will be used.
Read more: Mobile Development with an Eye on Health Data Security
Mental health data should be able to flow freely from your application to healthcare providers’ systems, e.g., EHR/EMR. Patient data should be readily available for secure sharing.
Learn more: How to Achieve Interoperability in Healthcare IT
Modern users typically switch between at least two devices throughout the day: laptops and smartphones. There may also be a tablet or a smartwatch. For the maximum convenience and efficiency of the therapy, your app should work consistently and synchronize seamlessly on all these platforms, operating systems, and all screen sizes.
The essential steps are the same as for any m-health application development. Below, we will focus on those aspects that are specific to mental wellness apps.
You need a clear vision of the type of app you want to make. It depends on what problems your product should solve, what specific user groups it will cater to, whether it will work in conjunction with in-person therapy, etc.
It’s crucial to understand your target audience. Specific mental health concerns may prevail in certain demographics, such as children, teenagers, seniors, LGBTQ+ persons, and others. For a youngster, heartbreak is shattering; for adults, stress and anxiety are persistent problems. The audience’s age, financial standing, and cultural peculiarities will likely impact your choice of platforms, monetization methods, content, gamification, design, etc. Alternatively, you may try to target an audience as broad as possible.
Try to figure out the best solution to their needs and pain points and how to keep the user’s interest to make them use the app on a regular basis.
Research the market and the competition. Competitor analysis can help you identify the best and worst practices in mental health app development in your niche.
At the end of this process, you ought to have a list of desired features and project requirements.
If you’re building a mental health app from scratch, your outsourcing development team is likely to include:
If you do not have a qualified team for mental health app development in-house, it is most reasonable to hire external developers who have worked on health-related projects and know all ins and outs of GDPR or HIPAA compliance and other technicalities.
Such a team would be likely to recommend launching a minimum viable product first to cut costs, speed up the time to market, and test the application at acquiring users and earning money for your business.
Prototyping allows for verifying design ideas and helps ensure that the features will work as intended. A clickable prototype can simulate an app’s actual functioning without coding. Simultaneously, your app’s color scheme, style, and distinct brand elements will be created.
The look-and-feel of a mental health app has to appeal primarily to patients and establish credibility and trust through every element.
UX/UI standards for designing a mental health app require minimalism and simplicity. The designer must make it easy to navigate all steps and the app’s features. A clean and intuitive interface should make it easy to find and access the resources and services quickly, with minimal scrolling and clicks.
Consider the use of the language, voice, or animated “assistants” to facilitate a smooth onboarding and navigation throughout the app in a way that establishes an emotional connection with particular types of users.
The interface should not contain elaborated elements or bright colors that can potentially trigger disorder aggravation. Pay additional attention to audial effects: make sure to avoid sharp, loud sounds and include mild tunes or sounds of nature instead.
The app has to be coded to meet all applicable user-friendliness and safety requirements. All types of testing are essential to mental health app development:
Once your application has been thoroughly tested and polished accordingly, submit it to an app store – et voila!
The following formula can be used to roughly calculate a mobile app development cost: app development time X hourly rate.
However, an accurate calculation of these variables is tricky because each application and situation is unique. The factors that directly influence the costs include, but are not limited to:
An application for patients will take longer to code due to a greater number of features that can possibly be available to them. For example, it takes around three months to build an average mental health tracker app. A simple self-assessment app can be constructed in 2-5 months.
App owners also often forget to include the back-office into the cost equation, while they will likely need a database and admin panels to manage content, users, etc.
All three components of a mental health MVP can total up to 1,000 hours of work.
Given the gap between the salaries of software designers and developers in developed and developing economies, the cost of developing such an app may vary from $24K in India to $62K in the US or Canada.
If you think of designing a mental health app for other service providers or growing your current mental health consultation business with a unique digital solution, please feel free to share your ideas with Onix’s specialists. From a proof of concept to a full-blown marketable product, we can realize your idea on time and within budget.
Let's look at the most popular questions about how to develop a mental health app.
For the patients, such applications offer
The benefits for healthcare providers include most of the above with the addition of:
A patients’ app is likely to provide:
A mental health professionals’ app may include:
Here are the basic recommended steps of custom mental health app development:
Any app designed for mental health professionals or any app that collects, stores, and shares any protected health information should be HIPAA-compliant.
The final price largely depends on the specifics that determine a project development timeline and on the development team’s salaries or hourly rates. For instance, an average mental health tracker may take around three months to build and a self-assessment app some 2-5 months.
With the average rate of $50, the optimal price-quality ratio offered in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, such an MVP can cost around $50,000.