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‘They thought they were doing good but it made people worse’: why mental health apps are under scrutiny

As experts worry over privacy issues, ineffectiveness and even harm, the UK is looking at whether the plethora of digital mental health tools need regulating

“What if I told you one of the strongest choices you could make was the choice to ask for help?” says a young, twentysomething woman in a red sweater, before recommending that viewers seek out counselling. This advert, promoted on Instagram and other social media platforms, is just one of many campaigns created by the California-based company BetterHelp, which offers to connect users with online therapists.

The need for sophisticated digital alternatives to conventional face-to-face therapy has been well established in recent years. If we go by the latest data for NHS talking therapy services, 1.76 million people were referred for treatment in 2022-23, while 1.22 million actually started working with a therapist in person.

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