What draws people to use digital health tools for mental health support?

Social media is far more important than either family or health professionals in alerting people to the existence of digital tools to support mental health

25th August 2022 about a 2 minute read
“I was drawn to the use of digital tools after asking for help that I never got.” Online workshop participant

Social media is a key influence in leading people with mental health problems to use digital support tools, according to research carried out by ZPB on behalf of FCC.

Of the 515 users surveyed by ZPB, 447 were using smartphone apps for mental health support. Smaller numbers were using web-based apps (206), wearables (124) or virtual reality (26).

About a third of the smartphone app users, and a quarter of the users of the other technologies, said that they had first heard about the tools through social media.

After social media, the three most common places for users to hear about digital tools were through a friend, a therapist or counsellor and a GP. The numbers were much lower, however – only 15% of smartphone app users said they had heard about them from a friend or GP.

Far fewer people had first heard about digital support tools from other sources. Only 7% had heard about smartphone apps from a family member, for example, while 4% had heard about them from another health care professional. The exceptions were wearables and virtual reality – 16% of users had heard about the former, and 19% the latter, from a family member.

A two-day online workshop with 15 participants threw up slightly different results.  One participant wrote that the reason they started using digital tools was “the fact everyone else was using them so I joined in.” Another said that their workplace was running a free workshop that provided an annual subscription to a mindfulness app, while another had two mindfulness apps recommended by a GP for use while waiting for CBT. One simply said: “I was drawn to the use of digital tools after asking for help that I never got.”