Mental wellness app use, adoption hasn't spiked during COVID-19

Higher session numbers among the top 15 mental wellness apps were in line with steady monthly increases over the past three years.
By Dave Muoio
03:29 pm
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Mental health and wellness app use has been on the rise during the past few months of COVID-19, but new quarantines and disease concerns may not be fueling the spike in new users or other metrics.

According to a recent data report from Apptopia, increases among the 15 most popular of these apps have been in lockstep with the gradual trend of rising engagement that the mobile app market-intelligence group has been monitoring for the last three years.

"Reflective of the market as a whole, most of the apps we analyzed were largely unaffected by the pandemic, continuing to grow or decline according to their previous trend line," Apptopia's Madeline Lenahan wrote in a blog post describing the market data.

"For instance, Calm, the largest app of the group, may look like it's surging in recent months: New installs of the app were 18% higher in May than January, and app sessions were 23% higher. And on June 14, Calm achieved its highest [daily active users] in its lifetime with approximately 4.6 million. Still, this record high engagement does not deviate from the app's trend line," she wrote.

Looking at the month of May, Apptopia observed a 66% YoY increase in total mental wellness app sessions – although Lenahan wrote that this could be misleading due to an "abnormally poor" performance in May of last year. More drastic is a 4% YoY decline in net new installs – a metric for gauging new users – following year after year of steady increases.

"This means it's loyal users, not new users who are driving the strong engagement lately," she wrote.

WHY IT MATTERS

The in-line trend-finding doesn't discount substantial use of the top mental health apps during quarantine, Lenahan wrote. From March to May, Calm logged roughly 350 million sessions, while Headspace, the second most-used, came in at around 150 million sessions.

However, the steady trends here are at odds with the broader discussion of increased digital health and telehealth adoption during the pandemic, particularly in terms of mental health. For these products, rather than enjoying a major leap, these companies may have to settle for slow and steady market growth.

"While mental wellness apps are growing in popularity, their success is not directly tied to the pandemic," Lenahan wrote. "This, of course, is not a bad thing, as the high engagement we're seeing is a signal that these apps have loyal users. I expect this market to continue to grow and expand as more people embrace telehealth in all of its forms."

THE LARGER TREND

From consumer apps to telehealth to digital health programs, many in the industry have highlighted a growing demand for mental healthcare and the potential for scalable technologies to address those needs. Both Headspace and Big Health have recently seen interest from investors and announced major funding rounds, while others such as Omada and Hims began offering mental health components of their platforms for free during the COVID-19 emergency.

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