Building a Mental Health Ecosystem: How to Embrace the 360° Approach

Kaja Grzybowska

mental health app development

Despite the broad market downturn and an overall slowdown in investments from 2020 and 2021 levels, the funding for mental health technology has remained prospering in 2023, according to the American Psychological Association’s report. Yet, not every tech company should consider going down this road. Customers need a trustworthy and reliable technology partner who knows the ins and outs of the mental healthcare sector and can build an entire ecosystem of product features. 

Users are not willing to give a chance to (and pay for) services that lack crucial features, such as asynchronous or synchronous access and support from a mental health professional through means such as live chat, video, telephone, and so on. This makes building a mental health app a pretty bumpy road, requiring a comprehensive approach and expertise that goes beyond technical matters.

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Digital Revolution: Why Has the Mental Health Industry Changed in Recent Years and What’s Behind the Rise of Mental Health Apps?

The mental health sector has witnessed significant financial shifts, with the median VC deal size for mental health companies escalating from $8 million to $10 million in 2021. Furthermore, the mental health sector is expected to grow to $26 billion in worth by 2027.

This is hardly surprising. People are increasingly investing in alternative solutions as traditional systems falter in providing adequate mental health services. Particularly now, amidst an AI golden rush, Big Tech is pioneering innovative, out-of-the-box problem-solving strategies related to mental health.

But let's pause for a moment to consider the overall system failure because it fails all the way along, as data suggest. In 2021, 21.6% of U.S. adults received mental health treatment, up from 19.2% in 2019, and it seems it can get worse, according to statistics collected by Forbes. People experience serious mental health conditions, such as psychotic disorder, bipolar disorder, severe anxiety, or eating disorder, which significantly impair functioning; suicide is the second leading cause of death for U.S. children ages 10 to 14, and depression and anxiety can be measured in $1 trillion in lost productivity each year.

The data paints a stark picture of a failing system.It's a gap that tech companies aspire to bridge. While the efficacy of mental health tech startups is debatable, the diverse landscape of the mental health app industry cannot be ignored. From "mental wellness" apps such as Calm and Headspace to platforms such as Cerebral and BetterHelp that cater to more severe conditions, the sector is varied and expansive.

With the sector, including workplace wellness, growing, our team at Monterail also decided that it's time to support our team members. We chose HearMe as our app of choice - here's how we use it in more detail:

Monterail x HearMe: Prioritizing Team Members’ Mental Health at Work

Why Is It Still Worth Developing a Mental Health App in 2023 And Beyond?

Why is it still worth developing a mental health app in 2023 and beyond?

Given the statistics mentioned above, there is no doubt that the demand for mental health services remains substantial. But is now the right time to enter the market? The industry appears to be quite saturated already, and addressing the primary challenge - establishing social trust - is not straightforward in the realm of mental health online services. Also, navigating through the development process can be challenging.

The answer, however, is straightforward: yes, the timing has never been better. Why? Firstly, there is still not a single dominant company that sets the standards in the industry, which indicates that there is still some room for exploration, improvement, and research. Secondly, the potential financial returns in the mental health sector are huge, especially given the growing demand for innovative solutions and services.

Take the mental health products our team is proudly supporting by developing new features and taking on the maintenance process: Cooleaf and Panda. In 2023, they are not only growing at a tremendous rate but also gaining additional funding and acquiring new partnerships. While building a mental health application may be a challenging process, it can be also extremely rewarding in terms of how many people you are and have been able to support.

If you’d like to read more about the products’ success stories and how both of these apps were built, check these case studies:

Types of Mental Health Applications

Mindfulness and Meditation Apps

Promote relaxation, stress reduction, and mindfulness through guided meditation sessions, breathing exercises, and sleep stories.

Employee Mental Health Apps

Support professionals as they move through work challenges and create a culture of support and transparency.

Online Therapy Platforms

Provide virtual consultations with licensed therapists, offering text, voice, and video sessions alongside scheduled appointments.

Self-Guided Therapy Apps

Offer self-help strategies, cognitive behavioral therapy exercises, and mood tracking to manage and improve mental health.

Mental Health Monitoring Apps

Allow users to track mood, symptoms, and triggers over time, providing insights and reports on mental health trends.

Psychoeducation Apps

Offer educational resources on mental health conditions, coping strategies, and crisis management, promoting informed self-care.

Mental Disorder Apps

Address diagnosed illnesses like anxiety, depression, OCD.

The other categorisation can be done considering the main goal: 

  • Informational Apps
Offer educational content on mental health.
  • Diagnostic Apps
Provide self-assessment tools.
  • Treatment Apps
Offer therapeutic exercises or connect users with professionals.

Which Features Should You Include?

The number and variety of objectives that a particular m-health app can address makes it difficult to compile a solid list of its must-have features, but let's try to generalize a bit.

User-Friendly UI Flows

A mental health app touches on very delicate, sensitive matters and, as such, should prioritize a user-friendly UI, including simple login modules to prevent frustration among users. Struggling with mental health issues can cause a shortened attention span and increased irritation, so a clear UI is a crucial factor in building engagement and improving accessibility.

Self-Monitoring Tools

Self-monitoring tools enable users to identify potentially hazardous situations, formulate effective responses, and develop positive mental health habits. These might include features for tracking mood patterns, stress levels, sleep, and triggers. For instance, users might track activities, evaluate moods throughout the day, and analyze how various factors, such as diet and exercise, impact their feelings. A trigger checker could facilitate the analysis of stressful situations that prompt undesirable reactions.

Daily Check-Ups

Journaling, often “prescribed” by psychiatrists and enjoyed by many for expressing or analyzing emotions and thoughts, can be facilitated through app journals. These can be textual or in video and audio formats, and users might also have the option to draw within the app. Daily check-ups, featuring general and specific questions related to disorders, symptoms, or goals, along with a section for comments, can be stored to track dynamics and even predict changes in a patient’s well-being.

Integration with Other Devices

Mental health monitoring can be enhanced by synchronizing the app with other devices, such as sleep-analyzing devices, emotion recognition applications, step counters, and wearables. This obtains accurate metrics for analyzing patterns and customizing treatment plans. The monitoring-oriented feature can be extended by gamification features such as assessment tests, progress bars, levels, leaderboards, and points.

Connecting with Professionals

Apps aimed at connecting users with psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists should provide a wide range of search criteria that enable users to easily find the specialist who might help them. The inclusion of video calls and chats ensures that communication between therapists and patients can be facilitated securely and effectively through the app.

Online Support Groups and Forums

While offering community-centric apps, it is crucial to build a safe space to encourage users to share experiences and seek advice. Ensuring anonymity options, filtering specific words, and providing blocking options can ensure a safe and supportive platform.

The most important factor you should consider when choosing a framework is your team’s experience and skills. Make sure that you know how fast you can hire new developers and your team’s retention rate, too.

ArturR Artur Rosa Frontend Architect
at Monterail

We know it's a lot, but considering the dynamic life and the multi-channel approach, which might include various types of mental health apps and features, might be ideal. Mental health is multifaceted, and individuals may require varied forms of support and resources. By offering a range of features and types of support – from self-monitoring and diary entries to professional consultations via video calls – the app ensures that users can access the specific kind of help they need when they need it. This approach not only caters to a wider audience with diverse needs but also ensures that the app can provide continued support as a user’s needs change or evolve, making it a versatile and enduring tool in managing mental health.

Mental Health Development Process - Best Practices

Product Discovery

Embarking on the development process requires establishing the overall vision of the app. This means finding a way to "translate" the issues the app aims to address (given the specific target group) into particular product features. Finding this connection involves a profound understanding of your target audience, their struggles, financial status, and cultural attributes. All of these factors will influence the app’s design, content, and monetization strategies.

Collaborating with Specialists

The development team composition is determined mainly by the platforms on which you want to run your app and the technologies you decide to use plus UX Experts, Project Managers, and QA specialists. However, when developing an m-health app, it becomes crucial to employ experts with experience in health-related projects who understand compliance aspects such as GDPR or HIPAA.

Building the MVP

Building MVP is crucial to ensure that the app is coded to meet all relevant user-friendliness and safety requirements. Comprehensive testing, encompassing functional, usability, interface, compatibility, performance, and security testing, is integral to the development of wellness apps.

Over to You

The surge of mental health apps is not merely a trend but a response to global demand, as societies struggle with an increasing prevalence of mental health issues and a shortage of accessible professional help. This is where mental health apps can step in, serving as a platform providing individual users with essential resources and tools, or connecting them with specialized help.

However, the rise of mental health apps also brings forth new challenges and considerations. Ensuring the efficacy, safety, and ethical management of user data is critical and must be balanced with a superb user experience and a stellar UI. It is not an easy task, and while choosing the right partner to develop the m-health app, selecting one with field experience is becoming a crucial success factor.

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Kaja Grzybowska avatar
Kaja Grzybowska