Are Mental Health Apps Adequately Equipped to Handle Users in Crisis?

Crisis. 2022 Jul;43(4):289-298. doi: 10.1027/0227-5910/a000785. Epub 2021 May 27.


Background: Mental health (MH) apps are growing in popularity. While MH apps may be helpful, less is known about how crises such as suicidal ideation are addressed in apps. Aims: We examined the proportion of MH apps that contained language mentioning suicide or suicidal ideation and how apps communicated these policies and directed users to MH resources through app content, terms of services, and privacy policies. Method: We chose apps using an Internet search of "top mental health apps," similar to how a user might find an app, and extracted information about how crisis language was presented in these apps. Results: We found that crisis language was inconsistent among apps. Overall, 35% of apps provided crisis-specific resources in their app interface and 10.5% contained crisis language in terms of service or privacy policies. Limitations: This study employed a nonsystematic approach to sampling apps, and therefore the findings may not broadly represent apps for MH. Conclusion: To address the inconsistency of crisis resources, crisis language should be included as part of app evaluation frameworks, and internationally accessible, vetted resources should be provided to app users.

Keywords: digital health ethics; mental health treatment; mobile health; self-help; suicidal ideation; telehealth.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Suicide*
  • Telemedicine*