Technology: Australians Should Be Wary of Mindfulness Apps Offering ‘Quick Fix’, Doctor Says

Users of smartphone mindfulness apps are urged to be cautious of quick-fix promises, as doctors call for better regulations of the digital mental health market.

Dr Quinn Grundy, a postdoctoral researcher with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, said her investigation of these apps revealed a worrying trend.

“There was a lot of messages around how easy and quickly the app could solve your problems,” said Dr Grundy.

“[But] if your app has promised that you’ll get better really easily and really quickly and you don’t, consumers shouldn’t feel like there’s something wrong with them, or that their mental health can’t be treated.”

The investigation, funded by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), also found that only a small proportion of the apps were created by universities or healthcare professionals.

“In the end we didn’t feel comfortable in endorsing any of these apps because even the ones that were from reputable organisations didn’t provide the privacy assurances one would hope for, or if they had a great privacy policy it was unclear that the developer had any mental health expertise or that it was based on sound evidence,” Dr Grundy told AAP.

Dr Grundy also expressed concerns over the commercial nature of these apps. “We would argue that mental health consumers are perhaps in a more vulnerable position to things like targeted advertising, or in-app purchases or a subscription model,” she said.

“So for example we saw apps that would be about anxiety or depression, but at the bottom you have these banner ads advertising weight loss products.”

Dr Grundy said governments should increase regulation of the digital app market.

PhD student Jazmin Ozsvar said mindfulness apps made her anxiety worse. “At first I found the meditations useful, particularly at night,” Ozsvar said. “But the requirement for daily reporting started to get annoying, and I realised that when I rated myself as feeling down, that actually compounded those feelings, I ended up feeling worse. So I gave it up.”

Ozsvar recommended the use of these apps in conjunction with professional help.