As COVID-19 has negatively impacted the global economy and is likely leading to a 5.2% drop in global GDP, it is clear that this will negatively affect people’s mental well-being across the globe.
So we ran a study into how Americans have been coping with COVID-related stress over the last six months. We reviewed the number of downloads of the popular meditation app Headspace between January and September 2020 (including the review comments) and looked at Google interest in meditation and therapy-related terms. Here’s what we found.
We learned that a significant number of people were not just searching for mental health solutions for themselves- they were interested in finding ways to help others, whether as volunteers or even mental health professionals. For example, we noticed an almost 10X increase in Google search interest for those wanting to learn how to become a therapist compared to the six months prior.
According to Google trends, search interest in “online therapy” almost doubled year on year in the U.S. since a national emergency was declared due to Covid-19 in March. With social distancing protocols in place, more and more people appeared to be searching for online solutions to meet their mental health needs.
Meanwhile, search interest for the leading mental health apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Better Help also appeared to double year on year in the U.S. and peaked in line with key Covid-19 related events.
As we researched the specific mental health issues for which people were seeking online solutions, social isolation and loneliness appeared to be referenced over and over again as the root causes for several downstream mental health challenges, such as sleep disruption, depression, stress and anxiety, and even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We learned that loneliness could be as harmful to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
We looked at over 6000 reviews for the most popular mental health app, Headspace. Indeed, most of the reviews were positive, particularly concerning how the app has helped users cope with the loss of routine and a lack of centeredness due to the pandemic.
“During this time of high stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, it has really helped me manage my stress to keep going strong for myself and my family”, said one user, for example.
However, while mental health professionals recognize the value of mental health apps as additional tools to help their clients deal with pandemic-related stress, they are clear that these apps cannot replace a therapist’s role in helping clients recover from mental health issues.
“Our work as psychologists is to help people look at their minds. There are so many mental health apps out there, but they have a short-term effect if people don't look at their minds and their ingrained beliefs.”- Yasmine Saad, Ph.D. (Psychiatrist).
While mental health and wellbeing apps can be helpful as lifestyle aids or as supplements to therapy, they should not be considered as alternatives to therapy for those with severe mental health challenges.
Suppose you or anyone you know are experiencing signs of depression, chronic loneliness, hopelessness, stress, or anxiety, no matter what level. In that case, the earlier help is provided by a professional, the better.