(Credit: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/iStockphoto)

Finding a mental health professional you work well with can be challenging. Even if you find one, there's no guarantee you can afford it. And what if you need medication? You might feel like you need a separate therapist to cope with the bills, copays, and insurance jargon.

Mental health apps seem like a helpful path to wellness -- and the mostly free apps are easily accessible on our smartphones. But a new study from the University of Sydney in Australia says these apps could be lacking in accuracy and doing more harm than good.

The study sought to discover how these popular mental health apps were advertising, portraying mental health, handling problem management, and other factors.

SEE: Best apps to help stop panic and anxiety attacks

The study found that mental health apps might be over-diagnosing users by calling regular stress or normal mental states worthy of medical treatment.

"Within the health care clinician-patient relationship, such messages should be challenged," the study concluded.

Two dominant messages mental health apps promote according to the study is that everyone has mental health problems, and they can be managed with apps.

"The apps we assessed tended to encourage frequent use and promoted personal responsibility for improvement," Dr. Lisa Parker, a Postdoctoral Research Associate with the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre and School of Pharmacy said in a press release.

Parker said the idea that normal "ups and downs" needed medical attention will only leave users frustrated from lack of improvement, time burdens, and possible privacy invasion.

It's also possible for individuals with serious medical issues to go under-diagnosed on mental health apps. Technology has made incredibly advancements, but when it comes to personal health, sometimes a face-to-face doctor is still needed. Especially with medication prescribing and regulating.

The Psychiatric Times found that with psychiatric illnesses like schizophrenia, mental health apps are less likely to guard patient data and aren't required to abide by regulations like HIPPA.

It also found that mental health apps don't have to meet clinical testing standards to be approved, only standards laid out by Apple or Android app stores. A 2015 study reviewed 700 mental health apps and found that only one had been clinically tested.

Another study found incorrect information regarding Bipolar Disorder types, management, and treatment. One app suggested taking a shot of hard liquor before bed to help sleep during a manic episode. Another app suggested that Bipolar Disorder was contagious.

Apps should be considered supplementary in a therapeutic process and be useful for self care. If you are struggling with a larger problem, treatment should be administered by a licensed medical professional.

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  1. An Australian study found that mental health apps might be under-diagnosing and over-diagnosing users.
  2. Mental health apps are popular, but don't have to adhere to HIPPA, aren't often clinically tested, and sometimes give incorrect information about serious mental conditions.

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Shelby is an Associate Writer for CNET's She served as Editor in Chief for the Louisville Cardinal newspaper at the University of Louisville. She interned as Creative Non-Fiction Editor for Miracle Monocle literary magazine. Her work appears in Glass Mountain Magazine, Bookends Review, Soundings East, and on Her cat, Puck, is the best cat ever.