9 Apps To Improve Mental Health

For many, finding the right treatment for mental health issues can be really tough. Although the majority of us know the importance of reaching out to others for help, the practicalities can sometimes make this difficult or impossible. Solutions like therapy sessions represent an extraordinarily expensive approach, and mood-controlling drugs may only work in certain circumstances (sometimes making the problem worse).

Although serious, debilitating or life-threatening conditions must always first be discussed with a doctor, certain home remedies may be used in conjunction with professional help, or as a pick-me-up for a lighter problem. In this sense, there are some unexpected mental health aids in the form of apps!

Below, we take a look at 9 of the best apps to improve some aspect of mental health, whether focused on depression, anxiety, PTSD, or eating disorders.

1) Talkspace

Price

This app costs $32 a week. $69 a week can also get you 4 video-chat sessions per month.

How Does It Work?

9 Apps To Improve Mental Health, woman on phone

Talkspace works on the simple premise of linking up users seeking therapy with professionally-qualified therapists. The key difference is that all sessions are delivered remotely via text, often complete with emojis and textspeak!

After registering your details, users are directed to an “intake counsellor” who records their concerns, lifestyle, and goals of therapy. Customers are then paired with an appropriate therapist, all of whom have been vetted thoroughly and checked to ensure that they have a license and a certain level of experience.

Therapy sessions then proceed in much the same way as they would do in person, except for the fact that they are delivered remotely.

Although the timing of the sessions are pre-arranged, the rest is much freer than traditional sessions – users could perhaps hold their chosen session on the way to work, or at the break room in the office.

Is It Effective?

The main draw that brings most people to Talkspace is the price, which remains far cheaper than traditional therapy sessions. For those who have inflexible schedules, or those who would feel nervous speaking face-to-face, the app also offers a way to get simple help without breaking established routines. Users living in rural areas may also get better access to experienced therapists via Talkspace, than they might find in their home towns.

It’s not all great though. For many researchers, having face-to-face contact during therapy sessions is very important, as therapists have more of an ability to read non-verbal cues, and support patients more directly than through a simple text-chat. If you aren’t facing some of the key issues we’ve mentioned above, you might find more value and emotional support from a traditional, face-to-face session.

2) Happify

Price

Free. Users that would like to do unlimited activities, enjoy access to all tracks, and view more detailed statistics must pay $11.99 a month.

How Does It Work?

9 Apps To Improve Mental Health, woman balloons

This odd app almost treats the pursuit of happiness as a game that you can win. It claims to be guided by the existing scientific literature, condensing more complicated behaviour-change programs into simple exercises and mini-games.

Users can pick from 60 tracks with names like “Nurture Your Body and Soul” or “Conquer Your Negative Thoughts” (some of these are free, and some can only be unlocked through paying the monthly charge). When you’ve selected your chosen track, the app gives you certain “skills” to work toward, such as empathy or an ability to “savour” life, and gives you a range of activities that will help you to fill up the progress meter on each skill.

The activities are varied, and there are 58 “core” ones that repeat themselves slightly across the different tracks (with a whopping 1200 different activities in total if you consider them all separate). Some activities invite you to write down things you feel gratitude for, some take you through guided meditations, and others are little more than silly games where you click on positive words and let negative words float away.

Is It Effective?

The company behind Happify frequently highlight the fact that users enjoy a measurable uptick in their happiness on average. The app makes you take a happiness-measuring quiz when you first download it, and takes new results from the same quiz every so often. Reportedly, 86% of customers report feeling happier on the quiz after just 6-8 weeks, a potential sign that the app works.

Of course, the only metric we are using to decide whether we are really happier is the Happify app itself. Some commentators have pointed out that the app may be encouraging people to improve their happiness scores, by simply appealing to their competitive spirit (after all, the games reward you and your scores go up if you simply report that you’re happier and do as you’re told). Source

However, some of the basic ideas behind Happify are interesting. Trying to remain mindful about what makes you happy can help to improve our wellbeing, and this cute little app can help to teach a few good habits. Though not suitable for serious mental health issues, Happify might help to give you a boost when you’re feeling glum!

3) Five Ways to Wellbeing

Price

Free

How Does It Work?

This app simply acts as a kind of planner that’s centred around a technique that has been proven to improve mental health – the “Five Ways to Wellbeing”. The idea behind this approach is that mental health issues can be eased, as long as users attempt to improve their lives in five key areas: to connect more with others, stay active and exercising, be more “mindful” of how we feel, give more to others, and continue learning.

The app itself is very simple. It provides users with a set of activities that help them to focus on achieving progress in the five key areas, and tracks overall progress. Users can also set their own activities, as well as learn more about the Five Ways to Wellbeing approach in general.

Is It Effective?

This app didn’t design the Five Ways to Wellbeing approach, it merely helps users to follow it. The approach itself is very well-regarded. It was first launched in the UK, and has since been adopted across the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). The available evidence suggests that it often works, and remains popular with patients.

The app doesn’t do anything particularly complex, but can act as a useful resource for those that need support carrying out the recommendations of the approach. Give it a try!

4) PTSD Coach

Price

Free

How Does It Work?

9 Apps To Improve Mental Health, holding hands comfortThis app has been developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD, for use by veterans or those serving in the military. It might also prove useful for non-military personnel that also suffer with the symptoms of PTSD.

The app offers a set of tools that helps users to manage PTSD symptoms, as well as a self-assessment tool that helps users to recognise symptoms, and track their increase/decrease over time. As a useful aside, it also provides important information on where app-users can find face-to-face support in their local area, as well as suicide prevention hotlines for emergencies.

Is It Effective?

There is no substitute for professional help for PTSD, and the app can only ever be thought of as a useful extra. It’s real value shines in how it can help users to spot their symptoms, and seek help from face-to-face professionals in their area, which could act as a vital first step for someone who had otherwise been suffering alone.

5) Catch It

Price

Free

How Does It Work?

This app is supposed to help those already following a Cognitive Behavioural Treatment (CBT). Put simply, it allows people to record how they feel at any given time, before providing a space and some suggestions for how to change emotions. This approach is said to act as an effective treatment for anxiety and depression, working by helping sufferers to acknowledge the factors that make them anxious, depressed, or worried.

Is It Effective?

“Catch It” is the only app on our list that is backed by a real scientific trial (Source). After using the app, researchers found that subjects enjoyed “statistically significant reductions in negative mood intensity and increases in positive mood intensity.” As it turns out, a major component of the CBT approach is simply to make people more aware of how they feel, and what might be causing that in order to change their feelings or environment. The approach works, and if the app is used properly, it should work too!

6) Recovery Record

Price

Free

How Does It Work?

This app is targeted towards people who are suffering with an eating disorder. Like “Catch It”, it works via the simple process of encouraging users to track their progress. With eating disorders, the theory that lies behind this should be obvious; sufferers can track how much their eating per day, and can clearly see the extent to which they are/are not getting the calories they need to be healthy.

The app also works by fostering a kind of community spirit for anorexics or bulimics, encouraging people to connect with others that are also working to improve their situation. As much of the pressure to become anorexic in the first place is often generated on Internet forums dedicated to anorexia, this kind of community can act as a real counter-balance to other negative influences.

Is It Effective?

We’ve already discussed how useful CBT can be as a therapeutic tool, and this app also has the added benefit of physically tracking how much you might be eating calorie-wise. It’s a useful tracker, and a great first step on the road to recover.

7) Calm Harm

Price

Free

How Does It Work?

9 Apps To Improve Mental Health, confide comfortThis app aims to help people to stop self-harming by doing different tasks. These tasks are labelled Distract (which helps to promote self-control and calming the urge to self-harm), Comfort (which is all about expressing views about the self in a caring rather than harmful way), Express (which helps users to vocalise their distress to others), and Release (which provides useful alternatives for emotional outbursts).

Importantly, everything on the app is password protected, encrypted, and private, meaning that app-users can be assured that all the information they divulge is kept secret.

Is It Effective?

Like some of the other apps on this list, Calm Harm’s real value is in its discreteness. Many people feel uncomfortable with talking about such sensitive issues with family members or teachers, and might benefit from some extra support that is kept under lock and key. By expressing serious issues in private initially, some might be persuaded to share the same problems with helpful local professionals.

8) Headspace

Price

The first 10 sessions are free. Costs $12.99 per month, $94.99 per year, or of $399.99 for a “forever” subscription.

How Does It Work?

This app offers a large number of guided meditations, all of which are led by a trained Buddhist monk with over 10 years of experience. The meditations typically take around 10 minutes, and come in the form of a specialised “series” (such as Health, Relationships, or Performance). There are also tonnes of themed single-session meditations to try (such as SOS, Sleeping, or Sport), as well as numerous stats and achievements that encourage users to meditate for small amounts of time on a daily basis

Is It Effective?

Meditation has repeatedly been shown to have a calming effect on the mind, and can allow stressed people to have a little break, clear the mind, and perhaps subconsciously take stock of their daily goings-on. It might not be much, but it does make a difference. There is also probably merit in finding 10 minutes a day on a more regular basis, rather than tempting boredom by sitting quietly for half an hour or more.

The only real drawback is the price. The sessions are definitely high quality, and the app developers have the required experience to offer really positive sessions. That being said, meditation isn’t too complicated at heart, and many users may find themselves resenting the high monthly price tag.

9) Mindshift

Price

Free

How Does It Work?

Designed by a mental health charity, this app acts as a resource for young people to learn how to cope with anxiety. It features written resources, trackers that help young people record the situations that may be making them anxious, and a “chill-out tool” that provides relaxation exercises, visualization activities, and mindfulness strategies.

Its overall aim is to help teenagers to relax, providing resources that help users to better manage intense emotions, worries, and fear in their daily lives.

Is It Effective?

Mindshift reflects the professional experience of its designer, and most of the resources found on it have the potential to be very helpful. The chill-out tools are particularly well done, and the focus on the mindfulness is a useful way to help reduce the symptoms of anxiety.

Some doctors have even commented on the usefulness of Mindshift as a resource for adults with anxiety, with at least one recommending it as a take-home resource to complement the medical sessions (Source). If you’re suffering with anxiety, perhaps consider it to be a useful accompaniment to in-person, professional support.

— BONUS ENTRY —

Woebot

Price

$39 a month!

How Does It Work?

9 Apps To Improve Mental Health, robot comfortThis extremely unusual (and slightly worrying) app is not a great example of a mental health app, but is so odd that it’s worth discussing anyway! Woebot works in much the same way as Talkspace, except this time app-users are expected to detail their various fears and concerns to a therapy-bot rather than a human being.

This chatbot has been programmed to offer the same sort of sentences and responses we expect from therapists. It uses CBT techniques in some of its goal-setting advice, it likes to reflect back what patients have said to it, and it even tries to offer some empathic and sympathetic words.

Is It Effective?

The theory behind Woebot is that customers may be more likely to share personal secrets and deal with personal issues through the chatbot, because they know they won’t be judged. It’s also clear that Woebot is both cheaper and easier to implement than ordinary therapy sessions, leaving some commentators to wonder whether this terrifying new technology will one day replace our current mental health infrastructure (Source).

If you can’t tell already, we find this idea to be scary in the extreme. Real studies have been conducted on Woebot, with the results being clear for all to see: users see no improvement in their mood or anxiety levels whilst talking to Woebot (Source). If you think about it, the reason why should be obvious – what could be lonelier than describing your depressive symptoms to a robot rather than a human being? Instinct tells us that no matter how much the technology is improved upon, the basic concept of Woebot is just wrong, and could be an enormously depressing and distressing way of shafting patients off of real medical care. The fact that this prototype costs actual money is perhaps even worse!

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