Healthcare

Mental Health App Development: How to Build a Psychological Therapy Application

17 November 2021 • 14 min read
Mental Health App Development: How to Build a Psychological Therapy Application
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It's not a secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically accelerated mental health issues worldwide. According to WHO, nearly 1 billion people live with a mental disorder, and in low-income countries, more than 75% of people with the disorder do not receive treatment. One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds, and about 50% of mental health disorders start by 14.

The World Health Organization states that the COVID-19 pandemic has seriously affected mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide, while the demand for mental health has been increasing. So, where to find help? In psychological therapy applications!

Although some psychologists worry that mental health apps could replace therapy. However, Stephen Schueller, Ph.D., executive director of One Mind PsyberGuide, a nonprofit organization offering accurate, unbiased information about such apps, says it's not the case. "Apps might be a gateway to subsequent care," explains Schueller. "Someone might download a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy app, realize it's helpful, and then find a therapist to help more."

In this article, we're going to talk about trends in psychological therapy app development, all the features it needs to have, its cost, security, and tech stack, based on Softermii's experience in developing mHealth apps from scratch.

Mental Health App Trends

While the mental health crisis is on the rise due to uncertainty brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the development and, most importantly, usage of mental health apps are also accelerating exponentially.

That's good news for psychology as this type of apps can help professionals enhance patients' progress outside therapy sessions. C. Vaile Wright, Ph.D. senior director for health care innovation at American Psychological Association, states that "A lot of work that happens in therapy actually happens outside the therapy office. Apps can facilitate that work. They can also help patients address co-occurring problems like insomnia or serve as booster sessions once therapy has ended."

Current mental health app trends address different kinds of psychological concerns. These apps solve a wide range of problems but can usually be categorized into the following types:

Self-Management Apps

In this type of mental health disorders' app, users measure the whole problem-solving path themselves, from providing the app with all the needed information to setting up medication reminders, managing anxiety, stress, or sleeping disorders themselves according to the app's settings and tips. It can also be connected to wearable devices to measure heart rate, sleeping cycles, blood pressure, etc.

Apps for Improving Cognitive Skills

These types of apps help users to improve their thinking skills. They can come in handy for people suffering from depression or post-covid syndrome, improving memory and concentration with special exercises.

Illness Management and Care

These apps aim to connect the patient with a health care provider or trained specialist who can offer counsel, check the progress, propose treatment options, or administer urgent care.

Symptom Tracker

Developing a mental health symptom tracker app helps collect users' data, such as behavioral patterns, social interactions, physical activity, sleeping cycles, etc. These apps are not meant to diagnose or replace a mental health professional but to provide a caregiver with additional information about the patient and alert specialists when the client needs extra attention or urgent help.

Mental Health Features for Patients

Elaborated mental health app design can help mental health providers maintain a constant connection with their patients to understand their mental state and current needs better, reduce the workload on therapists and psychiatrists, and reach a wider audience. It's also necessary to understand that the users can be of any age and background. Thus it's important to make a mental health tracking app UX as user-friendly as possible. So, when you decide to create a mental health app, note that it should have the following features for users:

1. Self-monitoring

Self-monitoring feature in mental health app

Mental health apps can be helpful to track overall wellbeing as well as monitor mental health disorders. This feature can be useful to record sleeping cycles, mood patterns, symptoms, meals and physical activity, thoughts, feelings, etc.

Users can analyze data themselves or hand them over to a specialist. You can also add calendar and checklist features to make self-monitoring more user-friendly and convenient.

2. Diary

Any mental health app aims to improve users' quality of life. The diary feature will help express and record thoughts and give the space to outburst all kinds of emotions. The diary has to have a regular typing feature, a drawing feature for those who can better express emotions in pictures, and audio notes for people preferring speaking and for those with dyslexia and dysgraphia. Also, consider adding the ability to share notes with a specialist through the app or another platform.

3. Chat and Video Sessions with specialists

Chat and Video Sessions with specialists in mental health app

According to McKinsey & co, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth services usage has become 78X higher than before. And it has stabilized at levels 38X higher ever since. And the most popular virtual visits have been those of psychology and psychiatry.

That's why it's initial to add chat and video session features when you decide to create a psychological therapy app. It'll allow users and specialists to have therapy sessions without leaving the app and enable them to simultaneously use other features such as screen sharing, video recording, and file uploading.

4. Matching System with Specialists

If you consider to develop a mobile mental health solution that provides a specialized practitioner's assistant, you should add a matching system with specialists. It can be done through AI algorithms, with lists of doctors' profiles, or directly through the trial session with a welcoming therapist who'll match a new user with a doctor by asking questions.

5. Video & Audio Content

Video & Audio Content feature in mental health app

It's a good idea to add additional video and audio content features, where there's no need for a therapy session or urgent help. It can have soothing aspects, lifting mood and cheering up affirmations, educational purpose, relaxing and stress release, mitigating symptoms or preventing exacerbation stages, sleep deprivation management, etc.

Also, patients and practitioners can attach video and audio files from their sessions if they need to watch them again.

6. Urgent Help

Sometimes people suffering from mental health issues require urgent care. So, it's a good consideration to develop an urgent care feature that can provide access to a quick emergency service call or someone from a previously created list of important contacts, and allow live chat or making an audio or a video call to a support line or a caregiver.

Also, you can have step-by-step instructions on how to act in case of an emergency and a tab with fast access to needed contacts.

7. Sign up and Profiles

The very first step of designing a mental health app is to add sign-up and profile features. Sign up process should be easy and seamless as it’s a user’s first interaction with your solution.

On the other hand, profile settings should include all the needed information for using the app – full name, contacts, age, gender, disorders, chronic illnesses, allergies, intolerances, etc. Also, if this is going to be a patient’s profile used by specialists, consider adding a file uploading feature to provide the possibility of tests and reports attachment.

8. Sharing

This feature allows users to share their progress, thoughts, and ideas to social media or send them directly to their caregiver, needed specialist, and family member. Some users appreciate the feature of mood sharing to different social networks and show their progress in overcoming mental health crises. Also, it can be useful to provide a possibility to export users' data in different formats and send it via email.

9. Notification and reminders

Adding these features when developing a mental health solution may remind users to check on their mental state throughout the day, do exercises, take medicine, practice relaxation, notify about meeting with a specialist, encourage and cheer up, etc. However, it is important not to overdo, as psychologists state that too many notifications and reminders add additional stress to the everyday routine.

10. Third-Party Integrations

Depending on the type of mental health app, you can also want to measure some physical indicators like heart rate, activities, sleeping cycle, blood pressure, etc., and attach it to the user's profile. For these features, you'll need to establish a connection between your app and wearable devices. To do so, you'll need an API like HealthKit from Apple, which provides data transfer from fitness apps and devices. Also, there are other helpful tools and useful technologies that can come in handy when you decide to develop an app to track mental health, such as Google Calendar, Nylas, Zoho for calendar feature, OneSignal or Pusher for notifications, Sendbird, Stream, or Vonage for chats, Agora, Twilio or VidRTC for video sessions.

Features for Doctors

There are two ways to implement features for doctors in the mental health app: creating a separate solution or building two versions of one app where users can choose options of patient's and specialist's profile. The development process of either variant is different. However, all the following features can be implemented for both.

1. Doctor’s Profile

This feature aims to make it easier for users to choose their specialists and for doctors to work with patients and meet their expectations right from the start. It has to include general information such as full name, photo, education and specialization details, contact information, ratings and reviews, prices for service, available hours for an appointment, etc.

2. Dashboards

Dashboard feature in mental health app

The goal of the dashboard is to give the specialist the possibility to store all the needed information in one place – daily/weekly/monthly number of patients, patients' profiles and health records, new patients' requests, revenues, satisfaction rates, and other useful information that can require immediate access.

3. Treatment History

To make a treatment process as seamless as possible, the practitioner requires quick access to the patients' medical records, including their medical history, diagnosis, prescriptions, test results, etc. The patients' list should be customizable as the required information might be different for every doctor. Also, it should allow specialists to create an unlimited number of patients' profiles.

4. Scheduling Calendar

Scheduling calendar in mental health app

It would greatly facilitate doctors' lives if they could have all the needed information stored in one place – your mental health solution, for example. Thus, one of the important features to implement is the scheduling calendar. This appointment management tool should include features to add or check current, future, and past sessions, leave notes, allow notifications, etc. Additionally, you can integrate it with a CRM system or link it directly to a video call tool in Google Meets, Zoom, or your own developed solution.

5. Chat

As in the feature for patients, allowing practitioners to chat opens multiple opportunities such as contacting other users directly through the app, sharing files like test results, photos, documents, etc. However, it is important to understand that the chatting feature for doctors will be more complicated as they will possibly have many conversations simultaneously.

Chats should be separated the same way as patients' profiles. Also, doctors have to be able to copy or download information from chat and attach it to patients' profiles. For a more user-friendly experience, you can integrate the chat with an option to use cameras to shoot photos or videos right in the app. Furthermore, you can add a chatbot feature asking patients about their symptoms, thus giving practitioners more time to understand the problem deeper.

Mental Health Mobile App Data Security

When deciding to make a mental health and mindfulness app, one of the most important things to look out for is data security. It is still a timid topic, so you have to protect users' privacy very carefully. There are a few mandatory regulations any healthcare solutions have to comply with. They are:

  • HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) is the US federal law containing national standards of any health-related data protection. HIPAA compliance is one of the most important regulatory rules when developing any digital health apps or platform. The good thing is that it has a very definite compliance guideline.
  • GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is a data & privacy EU law that applies not only to healthcare but to all businesses registered in or outside the EU and working with the EU citizens' data.
  • PIPEDA (The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) is a Canadian data privacy law that defines a relevant security framework for all kinds of businesses collecting personal data and information.

Also, there are steps you should take to prevent data breaches and enable high-level security. Those are:

  • Implement multi-factor authentication (password, face ID, fingerprints, voice recognition, phone call/message verification, etc.)
  • Use end-to-end encryption so that no one except sender and recipient could read a sent message.
  • Set up fraud notifications – let users know if there has been a data leak or if anyone's trying to sign in from a new unidentified device.

It’s also important to educate users on what they should or shouldn’t do to prevent data leaks. Awareness can be very helpful to provide a high level of security in some cases.

Read also: Hospital Cybersecurity Checklist: 10 core steps that you need to check now

Tech Stack to Build Mental Health App

The tech stack of the development may vary greatly depending on the complexity of the project, the number of features, team composition, etc. Though the technologies used may be different, but the basic tech stack is as follows:

  • Front-end development: Angular, ReactJS
  • Back-end development: Node.js, PHP, Phyton; database - Postgres, MySQL, MongoDB
  • Mobile development: Android - Java, iOS - Swift
  • Multiple payment modes: Braintree, PayPal, Stripe
  • Map integration and user location tracking: Google Maps API, MapKit, CoreLocation
  • Push notifications: Push.io, Twilio
  • In-app calling and messaging: Twilio
  • Cloud environment: Google, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure.
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Mental Health App Development Cost

The cost of mental health app development may vary depending on the number of features, tech stack, team composition, deadlines, etc.

For example, if the app should have only basic features, like video and audio content, diary, and self-monitoring with notifications, the price will not be that high. But if you plan to create an app with multiple extra features, the costs will increase. The average cost for developing a custom feature for an app varies depending on the needed additional features.

However, the average cost of the ready-to-use tailor-made mental health app starts from $90000.

Contact us to get your project's cost precise calculations.

It’s high time to develop a mental health app!

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on mental health. A KFF Health Tracking Poll found that many adults are reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and wellbeing, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%) and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.

The new norms of social distancing have made the mental healthcare industry move towards digitalization to start providing services remotely.

These facts only mean that it's high time to build a mental health app!

Developing an effective mobile mental health solution that benefits users requires the good idea, cooperation of mental health professionals, and partnership with experienced software solution providers. We in Softermii have wide experience creating healthcare solutions such as My Health Explained – a web & mobile healthcare platform providing personalized programs for patients faced with diabetes, or MedRealtime – a telemedicine app with real-time video consultations, appointments, and reminders for doctors and patients.

Contact us, and we will gladly help create mental health solutions for all purposes and any level of complexity. We will discuss the development process, set the milestones and define the budget — give us a call to start working on your project!

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