7 things you should look for when downloading a mental health app

Oct 8 2020, 6:09 pm

Mental health among young people is an issue of mounting concern. In Canada alone, there are over a million children and youth coping with mental illness — 75% of whom are without access to specialized treatment, according to a recent study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

Many within this group experience severe symptoms and the possibility of harrowing long-term impacts on quality of life. Working together to unearth evidence-based solutions, Homewood Research Institute (HRI) and the¬†RBC Foundation¬†—¬†through its $500-million commitment to helping youth prepare for the jobs of tomorrow with¬†RBC Future Launch¬†—¬†are dedicated to helping young people find mental health solutions through findings from a new report.

As far as confronting these barriers goes, mental health apps are an emerging trend attempting to fill the gap. While apps are accessible, low cost, and convenient, very little research has been done to support their effectiveness.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t make use of mental health apps; it’s just that having some guidelines can help determine which ones will work best for you. You can optimize and navigate your digital resources more safely by keeping these seven tips in mind.

Determine your needs

Apps have the potential to help you deal with a slew of mental health concerns, from depression, anxiety, mood disorders, addiction, or suicidal ideation. But finding one that targets your condition and age group is of vital importance and something the app should offer full transparency over.

Getting a sense of in-app costs is just as crucial when it comes to understanding whether using the app will be sustainable over time. By determining your preferred style of interaction, you’ll also get a sense of which app will suit your needs.

Verify the developer

Do a little recon on the app developers to get a sense of who they are and their background. Apps created with the help of mental health experts are likely to be more effective.

Being aware of the app’s funding resources can help you determine whether there are any conflicts of interest and provide clues regarding its greater mission.

Find proof


Is there any evidence that the app works as advertised? Look for apps that have reputable studies to back up their effectiveness. This way of thinking can help you better understand the app’s approach and how helpful it’s going to be.

Most apps have user reviews, but this isn’t sufficient. While feedback from other users is valuable, it’s too subjective. You’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for peer-reviewed journal entries or reviews that aren’t just from those using the app.

Check the dates

Double-check when the app was last updated. If it’s been over two years since the last update, the information you’re receiving may not be the most current or in line with best medical practices.

Knowing the latest release date can help you assess whether the advice you’re getting is relevant and functional on the latest devices.

Review the privacy policy


Mobile apps have the ability to amass tons of your personal data and should always request your consent before collecting any of your information. Carefully review the privacy policy to make sure you’re comfortable with what’s being outlined and how your data is secured.

Control your data

In addition to being aware of what information of yours is being collected, you should also have complete agency over how your data is being used and shared.

The app may be able to safely share data with healthcare providers to facilitate access to other services. Just be sure that any sharing of data is done with your consent and that you can eventually delete your data from the app and its servers if you so choose.

Guard your personal information


Last but not least, we have four words: read the fine print. Make sure you understand if your data is private or if it will be shared with third parties.

The app should make clear what kind of information it will be collecting and any external parties that might have access to it. If you suspect there might be a breach in how the app collects and transmits data, it’s probably best to get rid of the app altogether.

Your mental wellbeing is super important and can affect all aspects of your life, from your relationships, to work, school, and your general happiness. Learning to take care of yourself is an important step towards finding harmony within this balancing act.

These tips were supported by RBC Future Launch: a 10-year, $500-million commitment (now in its fourth year) to helping Canadian youth prepare for the jobs of tomorrow. The program provides funding to community partners across Canada and helps youth access work experience, skills development opportunities, networking solutions, as well as mental well-being supports and services.

You can get help exploring the variety of resources out there and finding those that work for you by visiting RBC.com/FutureLaunch.

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