Developers of mental health apps should expand their marketing efforts to target individuals and families, according to analysts at GlobalData.
The analysts found app developers typically target employers to maximize the number of users gained per marketing dollar spent.
However, while this may be an efficient strategy, it means individuals and families can struggle to access apps that support their mental health.
Mobile mental health apps have proliferated quickly in the smartphone era. Searching “depression” in Google Play brings up 250 apps, including products designed to screen for or combat the condition. Similar apps exist for a range of other mental health conditions.
The apps could fill an important gap in patient care. More than 6 million adults with a mental illness in the U.S. are uninsured, according to Mental Health America (MHA). These people and many others can go untreated for long periods of time. The last MHA survey suggested more than half of the 43 million Americans with mental health problems had gone a year without receiving treatment.
Organizations including the World Health Organization have said apps could expand access to care. That thinking led the WHO to recommend the promotion of mobile health technologies in its current mental health action plan. The benefits of the apps may be most pronounced in rural and low-income regions around the world where access to face-to-face therapy is limited.
However, GlobalData’s analysis suggests app developers could be doing more to reach these people. Citing Happify, Find Circles and Joyable as examples, GlobalData said mental health app companies are focusing their marketing efforts on employers, not individuals. This could be seen as a smart way to make the most of marketing budgets as persuading one employer to adopt the app could lead to hundreds or thousands of new users. Consumer-focused marketing cannot deliver such big wins.
Happify, Find Circles and Joyable all provide services directly to consumers through their websites and apps. However, GlobalData thinks mental health app developers should do more to target and serve individuals and families
"It is time for mental health solutions to think outside of the employer-shaped box," GlobalData analyst Danielle Cripps said in a statement. "Insurers could extend their services to individual protection policies, for example. Or if targeting individuals is still too narrow, how about targeting families? A solution could mimic Netflix, with a subscription comprising multiple users with their own personalized platforms."