How do you deal with anxiety, stress, or depression when you’re on quarantine? How do you see a therapist if visits are reserved only for emergencies? A mental health app can literally become a life-saver in these situations, both for providers and patients.
So we thought it’s time to put on our mental health app developers’ hats and bring you the guide where you’ll find everything you need to start a mental help app.
Table of Contents:
- Digital Revolution of Mental Health
- Top 5 Mental Health Apps
- Nice-to-Have Features from Top Mental Health Apps
- Teletherapy Apps vs. Traditional Therapy
- Monetization Strategies for Mental Health Applications
- Mental Health App Development Best Practices
- How to Build a Counselling App in 5 Steps
- Step #1: Choose the target audience and platforms
- Step #2: List possible features and run rapid prototyping
- Step #3: Code the solution for patients and doctors
- Step #4: Test your app
- Step #5: Release and keep updating the app
- 10 Takeaways from Negative Reviews on Mental Health Apps
- Top Concerns Mental Wellness Applications Need to Handle
- How Much Does It Cost to Build a Mental Illness App?
- Our Experience with Mental Health App Development
Digital Revolution of Mental Health
The overall behavioral software market keeps growing (a little over $2 billion in 2019), and mental health solutions make up about 30% of this estimate: $588 million in 2018.
You’d think COVID-19 would have something to do with this trend, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. According to Apptopia, the top 15 mental health apps have demonstrated the same growth rate during the pandemic’s peak.
So, it’s safe to say that the trend for therapy uberization is here to stay even past COVID-19.
Therapy applications count and types
Since there’s no clear market definition for mental health apps, their count across the App Store and Google Play varies from 1,435 to 10,000 to 20,000 depending on whether you count meditation and other self-help apps. The most common types of mobile therapy products include:
- Teletherapy applications
- Self-improvement solutions
- Mood & symptom tracking apps
- Educational services
Key Facts on Mental Health Apps
- First-time downloads of the top 20 mental wellbeing apps in the US grew by 30% from January to April
- Talkspace has recorded a 500% increase in requests from therapists to join
- BetterHelp nearly 2x the number of users seeking help with stress and anxiety
- US government has granted $5.5 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2020
- FDA has eased entry for counseling apps during the COVID-19 pandemic
Top 5 Mental Health Apps
Today, the therapy apps marketplace is a Wild West. To address that, the professional community has forged several app rating platforms, such as PsyberGuide and ORCHA.
These platforms host a modest but well-vetted number of mental health apps, ranked by credibility, transparency, and a few other traits. If we cross-reference these app-rating tools and pick the top 5 mental wellness products that make an appearance in all of them, we’ll end up with this list.
Happify is a self-improvement app that says its purpose is to make users happier. It tries to achieve that with mini-games and meditations, tracking the user’s happiness score.
Platforms: web / iOS / iPad OS / Android.
Monetization: in-app subscription and web subscription.
Talkspace is a telemedicine platform and a marketplace where patients can find a matching therapist and get help through messaging and audio or video consultations.
Platforms: web / iOS / iPad OS / Android.
Woebot is a chatbot that serves as a perfect example of how you can create an app to help reduce anxiety and depression. In addition to conversations, Woebot also helps manage mental health by offering mood tracking and word games.
Platforms: iOS / Android.
Monetization: no, at the moment (September 2020).
Related: How to Build a Chatbot in 2022
Daylio is a self-care journal with mood tracking and a happiness tracker. Users track their mood in relation to their activities and then review how different things affect their lives. Interestingly, this anti-depression app has become immensely popular among teenagers.
Platforms: iOS / Android.
Headspace is a meditation solution with meditations for all kinds of activities and audiences. The application also keeps track of the user’s meditation practice and reminds them of scheduled sessions.
Platforms: web/ iOS / Android.
Monetization : subscription.
You May Also be Interested: How to Make a Meditation App Like Headspace
Nice-to-Have Features from Top Mental Health Apps
Let’s discuss some of the features you might want to consider for a killer mental wellness app.
While a user profile may seem like a no-brainer, what we mean here is your application should feel personal. And the quickest way to achieve that is by having a profile with user details that affect how the app works, for instance “what time do you go to bed/wake up”, or “how many times a week do you workout”.
Reminders and notifications help with the engagement challenge that every mental counseling app is bound to solve: People should consistently turn to these products to achieve tangible results.
People are becoming really obsessed with quantifying themselves, and mental health is not an exception. To that end, dashboards are great for tracking our cognitive, emotional, and otherwise conditions.
Related: How to Build a Dashboard Web App
Before a dashboard turns into a colorful, engaging experience, though, users need to have an option to track their conditions. The less tapping or typing it takes, the better.
Of course, messaging is more relevant in teletherapy apps where patients connect with remote therapists. However, having a conversational UI, e.g., a help chatbot, can go a long way for self-monitoring applications.
Related Article : Medical Chatbots: The Future of the Healthcare Industry
Audio and video calling
Like with messaging, audio and video calls are more relevant in the context of telemedicine mental health apps. There are many things to consider here, but if there’s one thing you can focus on, it’s how smooth these calls are. You want a completely stutter-free experience for your users.
AI and ML
Artificial intelligence comes hand in hand with personalization. The more your app learns about users, the more it can adapt to their needs.
Finally, many of the top mental health apps include some gamification elements. Mini-games help people hone their cognitive skills and relax their minds.
Teletherapy Apps vs. Traditional Therapy
It’s hard to imagine mental health applications replacing traditional therapy altogether. At the same time, there are undeniable benefits of using these products as temporary replacements for traditional treatment which is why healthcare app development has seen a surge off late, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are some pros and cons of mental counseling solutions:
- Instant access (anywhere, any time)
- Lower cost compared to face-to-face sessions
- More control over health data for patients
- Necessity to educate patients about new technologies
- Lack of trust
- Limited confidentiality of sessions
Monetization Strategies for Mental Health Applications
Mental wellbeing solutions are no strangers to all the regular monetization options available for mobile apps out there:
- Paid premium version
- In-app purchases
- Mobile ads
However, if we look at the top-performing mental health apps, we’ll notice that most of them stick with a subscription variant. That must have to do with the fact that today we’re living in a subscription economy, where the price of ownership extends over time.
What we do not see with these solutions, though, is in-app purchases for users to try out a mini-game, a session, or any other meaningful interaction or content. It seems like a no-brainer, and yet we haven’t noticed a single application do that.
One other thing to note is that often, when users subscribe outside the application, on a company’s website, they get to save 30% of the cost that would end up in Apple’s or Google’s pockets. So it makes sense to find ways to bypass adding subscriptions right in the app.
Mental Health App Development Best Practices
Before we take you through the steps of how to develop a mental health app, let’s talk about what will make your solution stand out.
From your app’s logo through onboarding and to main screens, the design is your primary tool for establishing credibility and trust.
- How smooth is the onboarding process?
- Is it immediately apparent to users what they can do in the application?
- Does the UX follow the platform trends, simplifying user interactions?
Answers to these and other similar questions will help you understand whether your application will win users’ hearts or leave them indifferent.
Speaking of appeal, remember that your solution needs to remain accessible to people who might be discouraged by overly vibrant or unnecessary dim design.
Read our guide to Healthcare App Design
Naturally, people will care about how well your product is protected because their personal information will be at stake.
Doctor-Centric back end
Remember that therapists will also be using a web or mobile app to interact with patients and a separate solution to review patient data, track their progress, etc. Think dashboards’ realm.
These days, a customer typically switches between at least two devices throughout the day: laptops and smartphones. Throw in a tablet or a smartwatch if it’s a tech junkie.
And though it may be hard to pull from day one, your product should manage to follow the customer accordingly on all these platforms.
Mental health data should be able to flow freely from a mental well-being application to other providers’ psychiatry systems, e.g., EHR/EMR. You’ll never know what partnership opportunities will come knocking on the door unless you make patient data readily available for secure, anonymized sharing.
Related: EMR/EHR System Development Guide
Cautious use of AI
AI can make or break your therapy app. With this type of application, you can’t rely on training your healthcare machine learning algorithms on real patients. And there should always be an option for seamless human handoff. We know examples of AI engines that recommended a glass of bourbon to relax.
Finally, remind patients that your solution is not designed for an emergency and provide appropriate contacts in the app for such situations.
How to Develop a Counselling App in 5 Steps
Ok, now let’s jump into how you actually make a mental health app.
Step #1: Choose the target audience and platforms
Whether your app will target seniors, adults, or teenagers will impact your choice of platforms. It certainly helps to know more about your intended patients to design relevant experiences.
Step #2: List possible features and run rapid prototyping
When it comes to custom developing an app, having a list of features and testing them with a prototype allows you to verify your design ideas and ensure that the product will work as intended.
Creating a prototype first not only helps you save 10x the cost as compared to jumping directly into development, but can also significantly reduce how long it takes to build your app.
Step #3: Code the solution for patients and doctors
This part will take the bulk of development time. We recommend to follow the Agile principles and go through interim tests with each iteration. Follow these tips to guarantee a timely delivery:
Read our guide to how to find and hire mobile app developers
- Use third-party HIPAA compliant audio/video calling SDKs if you’re building a telemedicine therapy app
- Use other off-the-shelf components, like a chat, to expedite delivery
- Setup the DevOps pipeline to free developers from spending time on non-essential tasks
- Follow cybersecurity best practices for HIPAA compliance
Step #4: Test
As we’ve mentioned, testing is an intrinsic part of the development process. However, this step describes a major testing effort that takes place before releasing the solution. You’d need to go through such things as:
- Functional testing
- Performance testing
- Unit testing
- Stress testing
Step #5: Release and keep updating
Once your application has been thoroughly tested, it’s ready to welcome users. A round of app store submission tremor (if you’re lucky or if you’re working with pros), and the app is out.
Now it’s time to track its performance with the in-app analytics tools you implemented during development, address user concerns and requests, and keep the application updated.
10 Takeaways from Negative Reviews on Mental Health Apps
If you really want to learn how to create a mental health app that leaves your competitors behind, take note of these reviews left by frustrated customers.
- Check all login options. While social logins like Facebook or Twitter may work fine, some new options like Apple ID may prevent users from logging into the app.
- Think through each user experience element: If the user doesn’t know why she earns points, there’s no reason to keep them.
- Find the balance between upselling a subscription and offering value to users.
- Make sure the design is stellar.
- Onboarding does matter.
- Check that security is not standing in the way of simplicity.
- Be clear about the pricing policy and then provide 5-star customer support.
- Weed out bugs, obviously.
- Make sure the product supports the latest mobile OSs and all screens sizes.
- Include new stuff for long-time users to keep them engaged.
Top Concerns Mental Wellness Applications Need to Handle
People will need to know whether your app is backed by real-life research and if there is clinical evidence for its effectiveness.
We’ve noticed that solutions that have the best scientific base usually fail to provide highly engaging experiences. One other thing to mention is that some of these apps need to rotate content regularly to keep user retention high.
I agree that a mental health app can relieve the social stigma of asking for psychological help to some degree, but you still need to be conscious about copy and design in your app.
How Much Does It Cost to Build a Mental Health App?
The cost of developing a mental health app varies depending on the scope of the project, the app’s type, and the number of platforms you are planning to support. If we are talking about a teletherapy app, its cost may be around $60,000. If it’s a self-monitoring, mood tracking app — $41,000. I’m talking MVPs certainly here.
Like with any other mobile apps, we noticed that owners often forget to include the back end into the cost equation. You will definitely need a database and probably some admin area to manage contents, etc. So whoever is working on your quote, make sure they include this into their price.
Related Article : Understanding App Development Costs
Our Experience with Mental Health App Development
To date, we’ve worked on at least two projects that qualify as mental health apps: an AI coach and a chatbot.
We built a content recommendation engine that helped individuals maintain emotional health and improve their time management, decision making, and goal setting. On the user-facing front, you’d input your daily emotions via chatbot conversations, respond to daily questions, and like or dislike recommended articles and famous quotes.
Here’s a link to the case study where we talk about how our approach helped the client get into a business incubator.
Soberbuddy is a chatbot that helps people with addictions. We’ve inherited the project from a different team that was overcomplicating things by adding unnecessary machine learning blocks. On top of that, they didn’t find much success in helping the client monetize the product.
After our intervention, Soberbuddy has achieved a 10% subscription rate, a 25% retention rate, and a close to 100% activity rate. Here’s the case study if you’d like to learn how we did that.
Reach out today if you want to develop a mental health app or learn how your mental health app can shoot straight past the competition.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does it cost to develop a mental health app?
What tools should I consider to build a mental health app that relies on AI?
You may look at PyTorch, Dialogflow, RASA, Microsoft Bot Framework — there’s plenty to choose from.
Do I need to provide any certificates to list my mental health solution in app stores?
Not at the moment.
How long does it take to build an average mental health tracker app?
Does my mental fitness app require to be HIPAA compliant?
If it stores any protected health information, yes.
How do I build a mental wellness app that's engaging and personal?
Consider using AI frameworks and adding a chatbot that learns from conversations with patients..