A mental health app boom is coming — but should it?
The Future. The pandemic led to an explosion of wellness apps that helped people cope with isolation. Since that market reached saturation, VCs have set their eyes on a new prize: mental health apps. But while the sector could generate serious profits, it could also do some serious harm.
In the money, out of mind
Mental health apps — focused on remote therapy, mental illness diagnoses, and even AI therapists — appear to have inherited wellness apps’ popularity and funding streams.
- Investors poured $8.3 billion into fitness and health apps in 2021, nearly double what they invested in 2020 — and there, the sector plateaued.
- VC firms then started funding mental health diagnostic apps, injecting $771 million into European mental health startups in 2021.
- In 2022, a growing number of these have partnered with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) — which suggests they’ll get legal approval to move forward with diagnoses.
The issue with these apps is that they don’t require accreditation as hospitals or doctors do, so there’s not necessarily any clinical authority supporting their diagnoses. A user can get a diagnosis very quickly from someone unqualified to issue one in any of the ways society has typically cared about.
That’s concerning because diagnosing a person with a mental health disorder risks reifying it (exacerbating its symptoms because a person believes they’re sick). With vaguely-defined ruminative disorders such as depression and anxiety, a diagnosis can make a person classify normal emotions as “abnormal,” further stigmatizing those feelings and isolating themselves.
Is there an app for that? Maybe there shouldn’t be.