As Mindfulness App Headspace Booms, its Popularity Outpaces its Scientific Evidence

According to this recent article by Stat News, the demand for the mindfulness and meditation app has skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic as downloads have jumped dramatically in recent months. The company has seen a 500% increase in partnership requests since mid-March. More than 1,100 companies — including Starbucks, Adobe, and GE — are now enrolled in the Headspace for Work program. But as COVID-19 propels Headspace into a new league of popularity, experts say its scientific grounding is shakier than its subscription numbers might suggest.

A handful of studies indicate Headspace can help people feel more positive and less stressed, among other benefits. The company doesn’t claim the app can treat or manage any medical conditions. But with Headspace landing new corporate contracts, some experts say they’re worried that a growing number of companies might be relying too heavily on Headspace in lieu of other support for more serious mental health conditions like anxiety and depression — particularly during the pandemic, when rates of both appear to be climbing.

“I do have concerns that mindfulness programs, and especially mindfulness apps, are seen by organizations as a cheap and easy win when it comes to employee and student welfare compared to more expensive — but possibly more effective — structural changes in their organizations,” said psychologist Chris Noone, who does research on well-being interventions at the National University of Ireland, Galway.


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