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Headspace wants researchers to test how the app works

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There isn’t much research on how well digital mental health tools actually help people.

Mental health technology company Headspace Health is calling for researchers to submit proposals for studies on the impact of the company’s tools. The company’s products include both the meditation app Headspace and the digital therapy platform Ginger.

“We see meditation as both a practice rooted in ancient history and a topic of modern science — which is why we’re just as dedicated to studying it as we are to sharing it with the world,” the company wrote on its “Science at Headspace” webpage.

In the statement about the program, Headspace Health noted that research has already found benefits for mental health of both the meditation app and the therapy platform. But there’s still a lot that experts don’t know about mental health apps generally — like how they work and who they work best for. Many mental health companies don’t direct research scrutiny at their products at all.

Interest and use of digital mental health products skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and demand for traditional mental health services (like in-person therapy) stilloutpaces supply. Digital products can also be more accessible to people looking for support. They can be cheaper for people who don’t have insurance, and many (like Headspace and Ginger) are offered by employers or included in insurance plans. That makes it even more important to closely evaluate these tools and check if they’re actually giving people the support that they promise.

Researchers interested in using Headspace as part of a study can submit their proposals through an online form. And if they’re not accepted, they’re out of luck — the app’s terms of service say that people cannot use it for any type of research or evaluation “without the express written consent of Headspace.”

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