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Mental Health App Development: A Step-by-Step Guide

Anna Korotkova

Anna Korotkova

Solution Architect, Front-end

15 min

Mental health issues are rising, and people are urgently searching for relief. With stress and anxiety at an all-time high, there has never been a better time for mental health app support.

Approaching mental health app development requires extreme care and precision. These apps provide critical resources for vulnerable individuals, so ensuring thoughtful design is paramount.

In this guide, we will explore the landscape and process for developing an ethical, effective mental health app. 

We’ll touch on:

  • Researching user needs and competitive positioning
  • Building a stellar development team with healthcare expertise
  • Selecting the right technical stack
  • Mapping out features to drive user benefits and growth metrics
  • Ensuring medical privacy and security compliance

By the end, you’ll have deep insight into crafting a mental health app from the ground up. 

The need for digital wellbeing tools has never been greater – let’s do this responsibly.

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Market Landscape

The Mental Health in America is quite alarming. It says:

  • More than 10 million adults in the US have an unmet need to get treatment for mental health.
  • 70% of the nation’s youth requires treatment for depression.
  • There is an increase of 4.35% over the past six years in the intensity of major depression.

The pandemic is further pushing the people towards a mental health crisis.

Everyone dealing with depression, anxiety, stress, or any other mental health issue requires attention and treatment.

If you are still skeptical about mental health app development, consider these figures.

In the past years, people have shown a high interest in the mental health app and its design.

Somewhere this increase in interest is because of a higher level of awareness towards mental health.

That is why we are now focussing on answering everything about how to develop a mental health app.

Why Launch a Mental Health App

Yes, the market for such applications is lucrative.

But that is not enough to learn how to develop a mental health app.

Apart from market acceptance, you also need to understand why to go for the development of a mental health app.

ReasonWhy?
Efficiency of Smartphone InterventionsSmartphones bridge the treatment gap.

You should know how to create a progressive mental health app because it helps to expand the outreach for the treatment.

In other words, even though there are several treatments available, they do not reach the patient.

A mental health app design and the process should be precise and meticulous.

However, to ensure their efficacy, the guidance and treatment must be up to date and backed by evidence.

Easy to Access and ProliferateConsidering the colossal smartphone penetration, mental health app developers and consultants can reach to any location for provisioning mental health treatment.

This helps bring uniformity in society.

Getting treatment from conditions like PTSD, stress, bipolar, anxiety, OCD, Schizophrenia, Eating disorders at home is liberating and productive.

It saves time, money, and effort.

While accessing an application on the phone while sitting at home is more productive.

Assists with TreatmentEven if the design of your mental health app does not provide comprehensive treatment, it is useful for data recording and monitoring.

Sometimes, even doctors and psychotherapists advise the patients to use such applications.

Later the medical personnel can analyze the data and take correct treatment measures.

Isolation and Lack of SupportAsk yourself, is Social Media making us less connected or more?

The answer is Less Connected.

People might have 1086 friends on Facebook and still be forced to call it a day without having anyone to talk to.

Such isolating issues are enlarging the gaping void that already exists.

So, to develop a mental health app, you should know how to tackle such issues.

Relieve Work PressureMental health applications that target stress, anxiety, and instill mindfulness are essential for working professionals.

Somehow, we all are in deep mud.

Be it due to delivering a project or landing a client or anything else.

To get results, we need a clear mind that can think without any friction.

That is why we focus on understanding how to develop an issue-specific mental health app.

The Pandemic ConundrumFor those who are experiencing the pandemic situation for the first time are shocked.

And this is most drastic for the millennials.

Several surveys have found that the millennials are forced to bow down to the pandemic due to:

  • Isolation
  • Financial burden
  • Joblessness
  • Disproportionate impacts

Not only among the millennials, but the baby boomers and other older generations are the worst hit.

They are at grave risk and considered expendable.

These are the people who are on the brink of their retirement or have already retired.

The uncertainty in the air is another reason why these people seek mental support from mental health applications.

You have the reasons, you know that there is a market for a mental health app, let’s now move on to understand how to create them.

And yes, from SCRATCH.

Before you start looking for mental health app developers define top reasons to start healthcare startup

Creating a Mental Health App: Step-by-Step

You need to create a mental health app, check, but how to do that needs discussion.

Let’s start by talking about the business aspect of product development.

Mental Health App Categories

This is the first step in knowing how to develop a good and effective mental health app.

Understanding the mental health app type will help us decide how to develop it and what features are essential.

Furthermore, with the application’s type and features, the time, cost, target audience, and monetization methods will also change.

For instance, adding a feature like an exercise tracker in an application meant for the elderly might not get a great response.

Plus, if you are charging to add such a feature, it can lead to abandonment.

So, the type of app, which features you add, who is the ultimate user, and what you want to accomplish, shall always align.

TypeDescriptionExample
Mental DisorderThe mental health app design of this application covers:

  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar
  • Schizophrenia
  • OCD

It can be a combination of these or an individual aspect.

These applications will monitor the mood, keep a journal, and also provide psychotherapy.

  • Talkspace
  • iMood Journal
  • UCSF Prime
Post Traumatic Stress DisorderA person reeling with PTSD is fearful of reliving the past.

He/She requires help with anger management and needs constant support.

The mental health app design for this category shall include:

  • Self talk measures
  • Music selection
  • Breathing exercises

Plus, this kind of mental health app development also consists of integrating the user’s contacts for immediate assistance.

  • PTSD Coach
  • Breathe2Relax
Eating DisorderMany people take to binge eating due to stress and anxiety.

Excessive eating aggravates mental health, and the app developers need to make the solution accordingly.

In order to know how to create a mental health app related to eating disorders, take care that:

  • Embed both eating and mental health tracking features.
  • Provide recommendations for what and when to eat and vice versa.
  • Allow the users to set eating goals.
  • Rise Up + Recover
  • Lifesum
  • Recovery Record
Depression and AnxietyTackling depression is easier said than done.

The mental health app development must also give space to including live therapy sessions.

During the pandemic, keep the video session portals open.

After the pandemic, scale the mental health app functions and design to book appointments.

These applications shall help users:

  • To develop a better state of mind
  • Embed games and activities
  • Overcome depression
  • Take assessment tests
  • Suicide prevention
  • Talkspace
  • Happify
  • MoodTools
Meditation Applications and Self ImprovementThere has been an increase in using meditation applications during the pandemic.

Some people use them as a preventive step, while others require post-stress help.

In any case, looking for how to create a meditation health app is productive right now.

The ultimate motive of both meditation and self improvement applications covers:

  • Stress Management
  • Relaxation
  • Effective Breathing
  • Destressing
  • Controlling Anxiety
  • Mindfulness

If you are interested in the development of the meditation app follow the link here.

  • Headspace
  • Calm
Stress and Anxiety ControlStress and anxiety are two of the most prevalent mental conditions.

APA cites that one-third of Americans have stress.

This is rather alarming, but there is a solution to this problem.

You can create a mental health app and teach the users how to control and manage both these emotions.

  • MindShift
  • Self-Help for Anxiety Management

Researching Your Users

Understanding the customer is an integral part of how to develop a mental health app.

This is because the mental state of every age group or demographic cohort is different.

For a youngster, a heartbreak is shattering, but the same thing for an adult may not be that extensive due to experience, maturity, and so on.

That is why it is essential to fuse three aspects before creating a mental health app design.

  1. End-User
  2. Problem
  3. Mental State of Mind (maturity or understanding)

Also, the concept of mental stature is subjective.

So, due to changes in the initial aspects like audience and problem, the features, monetization, outreach, scalability, and app functioning will differ.

That is why at SpdLoad, we deliberate and discuss every idea rigorously.

We create a roadmap of the entire journey by getting authentic and actionable proof from the market.

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Monetization Models

How will the mental health app developers generate money?

It is understood that you are not in this business for social service.

Yes, mental health and awareness is a sensitive subject. If you look at it closely, you might be charging money from a person who is depressed and on the brink of committing suicide.

But, think of this way.

“You are helping your users Live their Life and not Waste it.”

So, any subscription fee is not more important or valuable than life itself.

If you are getting such questions in mind, then clear them out before knowing more about how to develop a mental health app.

MonetizationProcedure and Process
Pay to DownloadThe format is simple, you will ask the users to pay for downloading and using the application.

However, always set the price after considering the competition.

Do not go for predatory pricing, be competitive, and provide something better than others while keeping the price close.

In-App PurchasesAllow the users to download the mental health app for free, but keep some development features paid.

For instance, if your application has advanced AI features to track mental health and some simple tracking features. You can allow them to use simple tracking for free while charging for the AI track.

Recurring SubscriptionsMonthly or Yearly subscriptions are often preceded by free trials.

Here too, you can segregate the subscription plans.

  • Basic
  • Medium
  • Premium

Most often, the mental health app developers focus on the MVP version or the basic features.

Once the application gains traction, you can develop the advancing features.

AdvertisingTread very carefully with this aspect.

Here you need to take extreme care of the design of the mental health app.

This is because advertisements obstruct the user’s engagement.

Disturbing ads may lead to abandoning the application altogether.

Now that you understand how to create money with a mental health app, let’s focus on its development.

In the process of answering how to create a mental health app define 4 monetization models

In this part of how to create a successful mental health app, we will talk about:

  • Features
  • Tech Stack
  • HIPAA Compliance
  • Testing
  • Cost

Must-Have Features

There are two sides to this aspect;

  1. Patient
  2. Doctor

Features for Patient’s Application

FeatureDescription
Sign-up and Sign-inKeep the entire process short and easy.

Remember that any person would get frustrated with too many steps.

In addition, this time, your end-user might have anger issues or even feel depressed while sharing their information.

Apart from cutting the registration to a single-step process, make sure to use engaging typography.

User profileAllow users to create user profiles.

To create a user profile in a mental health app, understand how to approach the users.

Some patients with PTSD or depression might not be motivated to share their information.

So, here too, find a way to acquire the information from other sources like their social media profiles.

The point is to create your mental health app structure and design accordingly.

Self-monitoringIn a more advanced version, the mental health app designers and developers can connect the application with wearables.

Apart from this, such a feature will need user-defined insertion of different variables.

This can include:

  • Tracking stress levels
  • Analyzing the mood patterns

This will help define the treatment course.

Matching with a doctorWithin and after the pandemic, allow the users to connect, chat, and call the certified doctors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists.
SharingMonitoring reports, health conditions, and other such assessments are integral to mental health app design.

Allow the user to share these reports with the medical personnel and selected family members.

Chat and video-callsThis is important for mental health app development.

Any user must be able to chat, call, or video call with the physician from within the application.

Giving different options will enhance user engagement and interaction.

Communities and group chatLike AA groups, giving mental health app users access to a community might help with their personal development.

This way, they can share the daily experiences and feel safe sharing with someone going through a similar thing.

Emergency featureThis is one of the most important features to know how to create a mental health app.

Patients with mental disorders can get anxiety attacks, panic attacks, and other such issues.

Give them an option to send emergency messages to their doctor and caregivers with one click.

After covering the patient’s portal features of the mental health app design, you must also connect it with the doctor’s application.

The rationale behind how to develop a mental health app is ensuring that the users have access to easy help.

Both from within the app with smart features and outside, by integrating the two portals.

Here are the features vital to the development of the doctor’s portal of mental health app.

FeatureDescription
Role systemThe doctors and medical personnel using the mental health app also require quick set up.

Sign up shall be quick and preferably connected to a social account.

Also, a doctor’s user profile needs detailing.

This means that you need to ask them to enter several details and information.

As the patients need to select a doctor, they should know about their experience, expertise, credentials, etc.

Advanced dashboardIntegrate monitoring and patient health tracking features in the doctor’s mental health app design.

Allow the doctors to create a customized dashboard.

It must conform to their practice area.

Plus, the information sent by the user to their doctors must automatically sort accordingly.

CalendarThe mental health app developers must know how to create the app with calendar features.

This helps to fix appointments and set a schedule.

Treatment plansEvery therapist and doctor have different rates and prices.

So, allow the doctors to showcase their plans for the patients.

To find out how to develop a mental health app take a precise look at core features to build an MVP

Choosing a Tech Stack

Now we are left with what technologies you need for mental health app development.

More importantly, the mental health app developers must have an understanding of how to use these technologies.

At SpdLoad, we have expert developers with adept knowledge of all the necessary technologies.

Understanding all the technologies is imperative for a great mental health app design.

Based on our experience and research, here is the process flow and technologies we prefer.

This process flow and technologies are conducive to the development of mental health app.

StepTechnologyBenefit

Management and Design

Project RequirementsG-SuiteThe entire assortment of tools and apps in the G-Suite is helpful for mental health app development.

It helps sort the documents, create presentations, list the steps.

PrototypingBalsamiqPrototyping helps simulate the actual functioning of the application.

With a prototype creating a life-like version of the final solution is possible without coding.

DesignFigmaCreating a mental health app design provides insights into engagement and interaction.

It helps structure the application as per the user’s eye-movement, appeal, and intuitiveness.

Coding

HostingAWSWithout hosting, you cannot deploy your application on any sort of app store.
Server
  • Jitsi (for Streaming)
  • MySQL (Database)
  • LoadNinja (Testing)
Choosing the right service for each of these functions is essential for accurate and optimal performance.

Furthermore, understand how to create an architecture of mental health app for manual scaling.

BackendLaravelThe backend structure of the application ensures effective uptime, speed, performance, and usability.
FrontendReact.JsThe front-end development of the mental health app creates the interface and works on engagement.
Mobile AppReact NativeA mental health web app is a great solution for doctors.

For the patients, you must also create a mobile mental health app.

Implementation3rd party integrations
  • Payment Gateway: Platform-specific SDK
  • Geolocation: Google Maps or Core Location API
  • Social Sign-Ups: OpenID or SAML
  • Push Notifications: Firebase Cloud Messaging

Testing the App Design and Flow

After knowing how to create an MVP version of a mental health app, we need to test it.

This is essential to identify the bugs, glitches, and any other sort of errors.

For testing, we recommend using different web browsers, operating systems, and mobile platforms.

PlatformTool
Browser
  • Mozilla Firefox
  • Google Chrome
  • Internet Explorer
  • Opera
Operating System
  • Windows 7, 8, and 10
  • Mac (Latest Version)
Mobile
  • Android – Top three latest versions
  • iPhone – iPhone 8 and above

The mobile health app developers can go for Unit Tests and Integration Tests.

However, besides the developer testing, there are other types of testing that are essential.

  1. Functional Testing: Black-Box Testing adhering to the identification of functions.
  2. Usability Testing: Adds to the functional testing and requires using internal and external participants.
  3. Interface Testing: Checks the connection between the web server and the app server.
  4. Compatibility Testing: Here you must check for three things.
  5. Performance Testing: Performing the load test and stress test for perfecting the mental health app development.
  6. Security Testing: Identifying the security measures of the entire network and verifying the SSL certification.

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Ensuring HIPAA Compliance

If you want to create a successful mental health app, know how to make it compliant.

Different countries have set almost similar guidelines and regulations to secure user privacy.

Where the rules and regulations are somewhat similar, the nomenclature is different.

  • USA – Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA
  • European Union – General Data Protection Rules or GDPR
  • United Kingdom – Data Protection Act
  • Canada – Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act

The basic understanding of all the acts is robust and straightforward.

They want to ensure that while learning how to develop a mental health app, the developers must also understand privacy and data sharing concerns.

Because a medical record or history is personal to an individual, its protection and safeguarding are imperative.

In the USA, HIPAA is the major regulation you need to look at. To know more about HIPAA, follow our in-depth guide on the subject.

Budgeting for Mental Health App Development

At last, we will now address the major elephant in the room.

HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?

Our business valuation begins with two critical things, Idea feasibility and its cost.

Because if we know both the things, then we are halfway through with our clients.

A feasibility study and cost helps decide whether to take the next step or not.

Cost estimation further depends on the features and functions added in the mental health app development.

Based on the number of hours that the mental health app designers and developers will need, we can find the cost.

For this example, let us assume that it takes 1000 hours to create a mental health app. How to estimate the cost?

TeamAverage costTotal costShall you go for it?
Development Agency in the US$150 per hour$150,000Do you have that kind of budget?

Yes, a US-based agency will provide the highest quality.

But the cost is too high for the initial stages.

Even if you have millions of dollars in funding, don’t forget, app development isn’t everything.

You will need the funds for other purposes too.

So, looking at the cost, this is not a conducive option.

Freelancers$25$25,000A great and cost-effective option.

But you may need to compromise with reliability here.

Freelance developers might abandon the project if things are not going their way.

Plus, you cannot be 100% sure about their ability to do justice.

Yes, they know how to develop a mental health app. But how to create a next-gen mental health app? That is where the problem lies.

So, if you can manage multiple people without physically meeting them through the web and are ready to hire new people instantly, go for it.

Outsource Agency in India$30$30,000The cost is low, no doubt and the Indian development agencies also mean business.

But, there are some issues here too.

There is a lack of expertise, which might lead to the development of sub-standard products.

They can create a good mental health app design and even execute everything on their level.

But there are issues with the quality of code and delivery as well as poor continuous communication.

Outsource Agency in Ukraine$35$35,000The agencies here house field experts and will execute the development of the best mental health app.

The mental health app developers require less spoonfeeding, and they are self-reliant.

  • Cost – Perfect
  • Expertise – Perfect
  • Communication – Perfect
  • Deliverability – Prompt

What’s stopping you from contacting a Ukrainian based application development agency?

Find out the cost of mental health app design and development

That’s it!

We are at the end of our discussion on how to develop a mental health app.

Ready to Build Your Own Mobile App?

If you want to develop a mental health app that can make a difference, SpdLoad has the expertise to bring your vision to life.

As an app development company with years of experience building innovative health apps, we follow proven processes – like our iterative approach – to deliver reliable, user-friendly solutions.

Our dedicated team works closely with each client to understand goals and turn ideas into reality. We’ve already helped doctors analyze and track patient mental health through apps like MedPortal.

Reach out now for a consultation on how we can help you achieve success through our app development services.

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