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Mobile Mental Health Apps: Weighing the Pros and Cons

Mobile Mental Health Apps: Weighing the Pros and Cons

By: Randolph Edmead, MS and Laura LaRue Gertz, MSW, LCSW

As symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression are increasing during the global COVID-19 pandemic, people may be exploring technology-based strategies to relieve symptoms and to supplement mental health care. Increasingly, telehealth is a service covered by insurance providers. In addition, many people are interested in using mobile apps to supplement their care, track and improve their symptoms, and take proactive steps to improve their mental health through strategies such as stress reduction, relaxation, and cognitive behavioral techniques. Yet individuals may also be wondering how to evaluate if a mobile app is useful, evidence-based, and will safeguard their privacy.

Technology-based strategies such as mobile apps for mental health have many potential advantages. Technology has enormous capacity to gather assessment and monitoring data that can provide valuable insights about symptoms, useful strategies and could lead to more effective treatment. Technology can help overcome access barriers for individuals with mobility issues, for individuals living in rural areas or areas with a shortage of providers, and for individuals who have been reluctant to seek conventional mental health services. And now, mobile access is even more important as individuals may be simultaneously coping with increased symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression during the pandemic, while experiencing isolation and reduced access to their usual support systems due to physical distancing.

Although there are many potential advantages of mobile apps to supplement mental health care, there are still many barriers and risks, including lack of effectiveness data; challenges with reproducibility, implementation, and dissemination; concerns about the privacy and confidentiality of data and use or misuse of data; and challenges with integration of technology strategies and data into the treatment plan and the health care system. However, there are useful, accessible strategies that can help people assess the safety and usefulness of a mobile app.

The APA App Evaluation Model is an evaluation roadmap to guide informed decision-making in choosing mobile apps in clinical care. The guideline provides a series of questions, organized by levels, that help consumers and providers decide whether to use a mobile app (Torous et al., 2018). This model does not endorse specific apps, but rather promotes a systematic approach to evaluating apps.

The five levels of the APA App Evaluation Model are:

  1. Access and Background: Assesses background information needed prior to evaluation
  2. Privacy and Security: Considers many aspects of app security and privacy
  3. Clinical Foundation: Evaluates any evidence for potential benefits
  4. Usability: Evaluates how usable the app is for the consumer
  5. Data Integration towards Therapeutic Goal: Examines whether the app’s output can be used in a clinically meaningful way

The PsyberGuide, developed through Northwestern University’s Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies with funding from the One Mind Institute, reviews and rates apps that claim to treat mental health conditions. The publicly available guide helps consumers make informed choices. PsyberGuide provides app ratings based on three metrics:

  1. Credibility: Evaluates the strength of the scientific research for the app, as well as the therapeutic interventions provided by the app
  2. User Experience: Uses the Mobile App Rating Scale (MARS) developed by Stoyanov et al. (2015) to assess the design and user interface
  3. Transparency: Evaluates the clarity of the app’s privacy policy regarding data storage and collection procedures of the app and associated servers

Technology will not replace the human connection that is a central part of the care of individuals experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression. But when technology-based strategies are thoughtfully developed, evaluated, and implemented, they have tremendous potential to augment and expand care, to enhance engagement and treatment, and to improve the quality of life for individuals living with mental health conditions.

Randolph Edmead, MS, Vice President of Federal Government Programs. Randolph Edmead has an extensive background managing large teams in the mental health treatment, substance abuse prevention and treatment, policy, and evaluation service areas. Mr. Edmead has over 18 years of experience developing, implementing, and managing the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Centers for Mental Health Services and Substance Abuse Treatment and Prevention programs; providing curricula and training to SAMHSA and health care providers and staff on leading practices, human resources, accreditation survey support, skills development, and cultural competency; and consulting with healthcare organizations and treatment facilities. Mr. Edmead holds a Master of Science Degree in Clinical Psychology.

Laura LaRue Gertz, MSW, LCSW, Public Health Analyst/Scientific Writer. Laura LaRue Gertz has over 30 years of experience in health and mental health, as a clinician, analyst, writer, researcher, and project manager. She developed literature reviews and reports on evidence-based treatments for individuals with serious mental illness for a federal contract with the SAMHSA Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS). She has also worked on contracts with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and numerous other U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies. Ms. Gertz holds a Master of Social Work Degree and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

The Bizzell Group (Bizzell) was founded by President & CEO Anton C. Bizzell, M.D., a leading behavioral health expert and former Medical Officer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Bizzell’s team of public health experts have created and led comprehensive behavioral health prevention and treatment initiatives and education and training programs. Bizzell’s recent work includes systematic, integrated approaches designed to effect lasting change in health and behavioral health care through work with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Department of Defense (DOD). Learn more about how Bizzell advances data-driven, research-informed, innovative solutions to solve complex-real-world challenges:


Stoyanov, S. R., Hides, L., Kavanagh, D. J., Zelenko, O., Tjondronegoro, D., & Mani, M. (2015). Mobile app rating scale: A new tool for assessing the quality of health mobile apps. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 3(1), e27.

Torous, J. B., Chan, S. R., Gipson, S. Y. M. T., Kim, J. W., Nguyen, T. Q., Luo, J., & Wang, P. (2018). A hierarchical framework for evaluation and informed decision making regarding smartphone apps for clinical care. Psychiatric Services, 69(5), 498-500.

Bizzell Supports CMS COVID-19 National Nursing Home Training Series

Bizzell Supports CMS COVID-19 National Nursing Home Training Series

The global COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vital role of infection prevention, particularly in nursing homes. A dedicated infection preventionist role within long-term care (LTC) settings is now a regulatory mandate. However, infection prevention personnel and supplies are strained due to the demands of COVID-19 control and mitigation.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has partnered with the Quality Improvement Organization (QIO) Program to present a series of trainings on infection prevention issues tailored specifically to nursing homes. The Bizzell Group (Bizzell) is proud to work with CMS and the QIO Program to facilitate this training, focused on protecting vulnerable nursing home residents and promoting patient safety throughout these unprecedented public health challenges.

The National Nursing Home Training Series weekly live webcast is open to health care providers and to the public. Initial trainings included: Implementation Strategies for COVID-19 Surveillance and Early Detection; Cohorting: Effective Management of Residents and Staff; and Clinical Care: Managing COVID-Positive Residents.

The Bizzell Group (Bizzell), as the Data Validation & Administrative Contractor (DVAC) facilitates cross-network collaboration, data analysis, learning and support for the Network of Quality Improvement and Innovation Contractors (NQIIC) program for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Bizzell is committed to data-driven, research-informed, innovative solutions that improve health and public health outcomes across the nation and around the globe, through CMS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and National Institutes of Health (NIH). Learn more at:

National Family Caregivers Month—November 2015

At some point in our lives, most of us will become caregivers to someone we love—whether offering support as they age or providing care due to a medical issue or chronic health condition. The recent National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP joint report, Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, indicated that nearly 43.5 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last year.

In addition to dealing with day to day living activities, family caregivers are often managing complex interactions with various providers, agencies, and healthcare professionals. They average about 24 hours a week on caregiving activities, although nearly a quarter provide more than 40 hours of care per week while also attempting to manage their personal health and wellness. These intense hours of caregiving can take a toll on the caregivers who, as a result, are more vulnerable to stress, financial strain, and health issues. During November, National Family Caregivers Month, we have an opportunity to recognize the critical and challenging role of family caregivers and to consider how to support these important members of society.

One way The Bizzell Group (Bizzell) is supporting these often unrecognized champions is through our current project to develop helpful resources for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Several caregiver modules are being developed for the Health Resources and Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that provide caregivers with strategies for more efficiently managing their personal health and wellness and that educate providers on how to integrate caregivers as active members of the care team. The caregiver modules will supplement a broad set of curricula for healthcare professionals on the identification and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. With a rapidly growing population of Americans over 65, many of whom are also family caregivers, it’s critical that caregivers have a source for accurate information, cutting edge strategies, and available resources.

Bizzell Supports the Nation’s Efforts on Emerging Behavioral Healthcare Trends

The Bizzell Group (Bizzell) is pleased to kick off our second year of support to the Office of the Director (OD) for the Center for Mental Health Services within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). CMHS leads federal efforts to improve the quality and availability of prevention and treatment services for behavioral health disorders. To date, Bizzell has provided in-depth research and writing on current and emerging behavioral healthcare trends and practices in various media including speeches, blogs, PowerPoint presentations, white papers, reports, and issue briefs. Bizzell has also offered editorial and design support, meeting and retreat facilitation, leadership coaching, staff development and business process analyses.

Moving forward, Bizzell will deliver the same high quality services and offer our collective expertise in a wide range of behavioral health topics. These include evidence-based behavioral health and wellness practices, effective intervention and treatment strategies for people with serious mental illnesses, primary and behavioral healthcare integration and financing, homelessness services, mental health and recovery promotion, and cultural competency. “It’s been an honor to support CMHS’ essential mission to promote better healthcare and wellness for adults and children who experience mental illnesses,” said Anton Bizzell, M.D., CEO of Bizzell. “Given that nearly 20% of Americans experience a diagnosable mental illness each year, effective and accessible treatment and prevention services are crucial. Bizzell looks forward to continuing to promote CMHS’ vital initiatives by providing customized consultation services and subject matter expertise to CMHS in the areas of program and resource development, as well as business operations.” With a niche in healthcare, research and communications, Bizzell is committed to supporting initiatives like these that build healthy communities and individuals.