Are mental health apps a good alternative to face-to-face counselling for university students?
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Are mental health apps a good alternative to face-to-face counselling for university students?

Are mental health apps a good alternative to face-to-face counselling for university students?

Gen Z-ers are digital natives, born at a time when digital technology and smartphones exploded in popularity in developed countries.

They’re most comfortable using technology and apps, thinking nothing of posting a silly TikTok video or sharing selfies on Instagram, or ordering food and groceries via an app.

This has led to many university students feeling comfortable seeking help from mental health apps to address issues such as stress, anxiety or depression instead of visiting their university counselling centre.

The rise of mental health apps also means that there are plenty to choose from – whether it’s for wellbeing, stress management, depression or mindfulness.


Victoria Williams, an English student at Exeter University, told The Guardian, “It’s just a platform to express what you’re feeling in an anonymous way. I think of the app as a first step in getting help.

“For some people, going to a wellbeing centre or speaking to a mental health expert can be quite daunting.”

According to Amelia Trew, a student wellbeing officer at the University of East Anglia, these apps can be “empowering” for students because it allows them to take control of their wellbeing on their own terms.

It has been widely reported that mental health is a serious problem – even dubbed a “crisis” – among today’s youth.

According to a report by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, the number of students visiting university counselling centres in the US has more than doubled between 2013 and 2019.

As university counselling centres in some universities are reportedly filled to the brim, where students have to wait for a long time to get an appointment, the availability of such apps can be helpful.

However, some warn against using them as an alternative to seeking treatment from a university counsellor in real-time.

Martha Griffiths, a University of East Anglia student, told The Guardian that it’s patronising for people to assume that apps are how students can tackle such a “complicated and nuanced problem”.

She said, “When you come down to severe mental health crises, apps can’t help with that. They can’t give you what students need, which is actual contacts and serious support. It’s a great way of universities saying they’re doing something without addressing the serious problem.”

Are mental health apps effective?

Til Wykes, professor of clinical psychology and rehabilitation at King’s College London, also pointed out that many of these apps haven’t been tested in a randomised controlled trial, meaning that their effectiveness hasn’t been scientifically proven.

She said that while apps do have a place in monitoring and treating those with mental health issues, they should be used as an additional resource instead of an alternative to traditional counselling services.

Wykes also said that since mental health apps are often developed by “non-experts,” app designers may be driven by the wrong incentives as they want people to keep using the app for their own gains and that these apps are also often designed without consulting people with mental illness.

While some can be helpful and beneficial for those struggling with mental health, if you still don’t feel better after using them, it could be time to make an appointment with your university counselling centre or a licensed psychologist.

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