Is There an App for That?: Ethical Issues in the Digital Mental Health Response to COVID-19

American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 13 (3):177-190 (2022)
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As COVID-19 spread, clinicians warned of mental illness epidemics within the coronavirus pandemic. Funding for digital mental health is surging and researchers are calling for widespread adoption to address the mental health sequalae of COVID-19. We consider whether these technologies improve mental health outcomes and whether they exacerbate existing health inequalities laid bare by the pandemic. We argue the evidence for efficacy is weak and the likelihood of increasing inequalities is high. First, we review recent trends in digital mental health. Next, we turn to the clinical literature to show that many technologies proposed as a response to COVID-19 are unlikely to improve outcomes. Then, we argue that even evidence-based technologies run the risk of increasing health disparities. We conclude by suggesting that policymakers should not allocate limited resources to the development of many digital mental health tools and should focus instead on evidence-based solutions to address mental health inequalities.

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