Mental health apps, which have grown in popularity in recent years, are undergoing an evolution from mental to emotional health towards a nuanced, organized path to mental wellness. These apps are betting on science and biology to address emotional wellbeing with a more targeted approach.

SloMo, an app for people experiencing psychosis, is being trialed and tested by the UK’s National Health Service. The app was developed by clinical psychologists and London design studio Special Projects to work alongside regular therapy sessions. Outside of sessions, users can record unhelpful, racing thoughts and slow them down using the app’s interactive thought bubbles and animations. The program aims to soothe people during psychotic episodes, which often involves hallucinations, racing or disorganized thoughts, and was developed as part of a larger scope of research by SloMo co-founder and Clinical Psychologist Dr. Amy Hardy and her team of researchers at King’s College London. Special Projects has since joined the experts to better refine potential aid and solutions for these episodes for at-home users.

A hand with light skin wearing a purple sweatshirt holds a smartphone in the center of the photo. The phone screen reads: "SloMo. It's just a coincidence. Slow down. Toolkit."
Photo by for Special Projects.

Dr. Hardy tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence that "The rapid growth in digital therapeutics has led to a wealth of products and services which lack sufficient evidence of safety, usability and effectiveness. We fully support an increased focus on the development and evaluation of digital therapeutics that target evidence-based mechanisms which play a role in mental health outcomes." SloMo is attempting to fill this growing space with proven, effective methods and has seen improvement in its clientele. "We adopted this approach in developing SlowMo, and have demonstrated it can improve outcomes for psychosis, including marginalized groups."

A person with light skin wears a watch-like bracelet, only their forearms and hands are visible in the photo. To the right of the image, two sample smart phone screens display readings from the wearable.

This year’s CES highlights and activations revealed applications to maintain and monitor wellness rituals. The Nowatch, or what the company calls the industry’s first “awareable,” is a screenless wrist-wearable that monitors a user’s sleep, stress, and movement in real time. Regular vibrations from the device remind the wearer to focus on the then-and-now, and its accompanying app guides the consumer to recognize and build restorative routines based on their daily stress triggers and habits. Nowatch offers “a powerful tool to help people stay grounded in the present and achieve well-being,” CEO and co-founder Hylke Muntinga stated in a press release.

A targeted approach is what resonates with users, whereas blanket statements and broader solutions leave consumers wanting more. Koko, a peer-to-peer mental health service app, tested auto-generated responses using OpenAI’s chat GPT-3. Koko Bot messages, though positive, eventually fell flat as users thought the interactions “felt kind of sterile” and lacked “human nuance,” Koko’s co-founder Rob Morris told Gizmodo in an interview.

Targeted apps for mental health practices are the next iteration of popularized meditation and wellness platforms, meeting consumers with intention and purposeful, guided content to reform their emotional health with better habits and routines.

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