Meditation Apps and Mental Health

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Meditation Apps and Mental Health

A study cited on Sage Journals mined over 10,000 reviews of more than 100 mental health and wellness apps - most of which are focused on meditation - retrieved from Apple Store and Google Play. The study examined what users liked, disliked, and requested from these apps. They found that the most liked features include ease of use, variety of options, and a visually appealing UI, while the most disliked features are persistent bugs, lack of clear guidelines, and lack of a privacy policy.

The strategies these mental health and wellness apps employed include monitoring/tracking feelings, thoughts, journals, or behaviors (employed by almost 40 apps); meditation/mindfulness methods (37 apps); relaxation methods like yoga, deep breathing, music, coping, natural sounds, self talk, and games (82 apps); CBT (26 apps); education (21 apps), advice, skill training, or tips (16 apps); "feedback (graph and chart that show a pattern of collected data) by 10 apps; and journaling by 11 apps."

QUALITIES USERS LIKED (STRENGTHS)

Usability

  • This refers to the ease of use of the apps. A lot of users cited simplicity and ease of use as the main qualities they liked about the mental health and wellness apps examined.
  • A visually appealing user interface is another integral part of usability. Most users expressed a strong preference for apps that are well-structured and have a visually appealing user interface - including visually appealing charts and games. Some users found the colors and graphics in these apps therapeutic and non-overwhelming.
  • Mental health and wellness app users appreciated apps with "simple and clear guidelines and instructions regarding the use, irrespective of app appearance. For example, users of the app are guided step by step in using every aspect to support their emotional health."" Clear instructions like how to perform an activity or breathe properly were also loved by users.
  • Users of these apps expressed the significance of apps that are kept up to date frequently to comply with software requirements and new phone features so they work properly.
  • Other features under "usability" that users liked include backup functionality, export functions, syncing the app with other health apps or devices, and hashtag functions.

Variety of Features & Options

  • Users of the mental health and wellness apps examined valued the wide range of content, options, and functionalities some of these mental apps offered. Examples include the ability to play interactive games, take quizzes, and read articles.
  • These users expressed a strong preference for apps with a variety of meditation functionalities, such as guided and unguided meditations; short and long meditations; and meditations for different cohorts like advanced and novice.
  • They also appreciated different tracking functionalities offered by some apps, such as tracking sleep and mood.
  • Another appreciated characteristic is the diversity of features some of these apps have, such as a variety of media (music, picture, and sound), coping methods, challenges, activities, suggestions, and games.

Personalization

  • Mental health and wellness apps that offered the ability to "customize the appearance of the app and its functionality to fit the users’ personal needs were well-received."
  • These users like customizing the app theme and using their own music, sounds, and pictures.
  • They frequently highlighted the importance of customizable reminders (tailored to fit individual daily routines) in the apps.
  • In addition, they liked apps that offered options to personalize the length and rate of breathing exercises.
  • Apps that tailor functionalities according to user data, such as providing daily exercises and suggestions based on mood were also well-received among users.

Affordability

  • While most mental health and wellness app users are okay with paying a reasonable amount for well-designed apps, they prefer free apps that are just as adequately designed.
  • Most users expressed dissatisfaction and were generally irritated by paid apps that offered promises they could not deliver on or that were poorly designed.

Information

  • These users preferred apps that offer rich information and explanation of mental health issues.
  • They also appreciated apps that outlined different methods (from a scientific and holistic perspective) that they could use to reduce mental health issues.

Credibility

  • Mental health and wellness app users expressed a strong preference for apps centered on scientific evidence.
  • These users liked apps - especially free apps - with no advertisements.
  • Apps that offer accurate tests and results were well-received as well.

QUALITIES USERS DISLIKED (WEAKNESSES)

Usability Issues

  • Over 1,000 negative reviews across the mental health and wellness apps examined in the aforementioned study were related to usability. A lot of users complained about persistent bugs in some of these apps, such as syntactic error, crashing, download and update issues, and functionality.
  • Several users mentioned poor user interface design issues like layout/readability problems and bad navigation.
  • Users of mental health apps consider data collection via a tracking application important, especially individuals who spend a lot of time assembling data to improve their mental health. These individuals may never use an app again if it has an issue that makes them lose their data.
  • Battery and memory usage issues were also discussed by most users. Mental health and wellness apps that consume a substantial amount of memory space and battery are disliked by a lot of users.
  • Clear guidelines and instructions detailing "how to use the app are crucial, especially for users with mental health issues that impair concentration and cause them to be easily frustrated." Some users complained about the lack of explanation or clarification of terms they did not know.
  • A few users mentioned that apps that can only work with an internet connection are less useful or accessible, as they cannot always access WiFi everywhere they go.
  • Missing key features like sync, backup, and export capabilities are issues that some users complained about as well.

Dishonesty

  • Several users identified issues that "reduces app credibility," thus affecting user trust, the main one being about privacy. Lack of or weak privacy policies; getting access to data on the phone without the permission of the user, such as location and sensitive health information; asking for access to mobile data unrelated to the app; asking for an account to be created; and asking for too much information during login are privacy related issues that most users complained about.
  • Mental health and wellness apps with pop-up ads, especially paid apps with these ads, annoy users.
  • Subscription issues such as not allowing users to cancel their subscription whenever they want, charging users without notifying them, and still having locked features even after users have paid for the app are issues that a few users mentioned and consider dishonest.
  • Some users dig deep into the background of the developers and creators of the mental health and wellness apps they use. Ultimately, these users prefer apps that are developed by people with some sort of background on mental health issues.

Unaffordability

  • Several reviewers complained about apps being overpriced or too expensive for them to use.

Lack of Variety of Options

  • Some users expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of content variety offered by these apps, like limited options for meditations, tracking, and mood.
  • Users would "like access to unlimited meditations and track options."

Others

  • Other issues that users complained about in relation to these mental health and wellness apps include poor customer service, lack of personalization, lack of control, and lack of security.

RESEARCH STRATEGY

In order to address this ask, we combed through peer reviewed journals and studies specific to the strengths and weaknesses of meditation apps focused on mental health issues, to no avail. Instead, we found blogs and thought pieces discussing these issues. As a result, we tried a different approach. We attempted examining the top three to five meditation apps focused on mental issues and combing through reviews about them to gather their strengths and weaknesses. This did not seem practical as these apps have thousands - with some having even millions - of reviews. Eventually, we found research that summarized these reviews and decided to leverage this research. Please note that this research did not focus on apps in the US alone, apps around the world were studied.


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