5 Apps That Can Help Boost Your Mental Health, According To Experts (2022)

Anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions are on the rise—in fact, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended all adults be screened for anxiety due to the high prevalence of the condition. In the era of smartphones, it’s only natural to turn to screens for help.

While apps alone can’t meet all your mental health needs, some apps may be able to help you relax, de-stress and boost your mood. They may also provide valuable resources and support for those struggling with certain mental health conditions, like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and bipolar disorder.

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What Is a Mental Health App?

Mental health apps are applications you can install on your smartphone, smart device or computer to help improve your emotional or mental health. They range from providing relaxation, mindfulness and meditation exercises to tracking mood and behavioral symptoms in individuals with anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.

“We live in an increasingly digital culture,” explains Kassondra Glenn, a licensed master social worker at The Diamond Rehab Thailand. While it’s not uncommon for people to check their phones multiple times a day, Glenn says that using an app geared toward wellness during stressful times may not only promote coping skills, but actually lessen the amount of time we spend on apps that can negatively impact our mental health.

Some mental health apps are designed to be used in conjunction with therapy, while others are used independently. There is a growing body of research on the efficacy of mental health apps, and many have been used effectively for anxiety and depression—though more research is needed to determine long-term effects.

While mental health apps can’t replace professional help, they may be a useful addition to your self-care routine, and help prevent certain conditions from worsening.

Who May Benefit From a Mental Health App?

Anyone has the potential to benefit from a mental health app, explains Glenn. “There are many different formats of apps out there. The quality and intentions of the app are what matter most.” Some apps encompass a variety of therapy techniques and mental health support, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A type of therapy that helps you change negative thinking patterns and behaviors
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): A type of therapy that emphasizes building coping skills to deal with difficult situations and emotions
  • Exposure therapy: A type of therapy that gradually exposes you to the things you’re afraid of in a safe and controlled environment
  • Meditation: A practice that involves focusing your attention and clearing your mind of distractions
  • Mindfulness: A relaxation technique that involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment.
  • Relaxation exercises: Exercises that focus on relaxation, deep breathing, and stress reduction
  • Stress management: Techniques to help you cope with stress in a healthy way

With the right app, it’s possible to learn valuable skills to help manage one’s mental health. But, according to Lindsay Popilskis, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, certified school psychologist and owner of Pathways of Rockland in New York, certain groups of people may benefit more from mental health apps than others. Individuals who may benefit more includes those who:

  • Struggle with anxiety or depression
  • Have experienced trauma
  • Have difficulty managing stress
  • Want to improve their sleep
  • Want to learn how to incorporate mindfulness into their schedules
  • Looking for help with mood management
  • Want to learn more about mental health
  • Want to find community and support

Individuals living through an active mental health crisis (where their thoughts or behavors seem erratic or uncontrollable) or those experiencing suicidal thoughts may not be the best candiates for standalone self-help apps, and these tools should not be used as a substitute for professional help. If you or someone you know is struggling, it’s crucial to seek help from a mental health professional right away.

If you need immediate help, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing “988” on your phone.

Connect With A Counselor

If you're in crisis or having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 988 or message its live online chat service for immediate support from a trained counselor. If you're in immediate danger, call 911.

5 Apps That Support Mental Health

We chose the best apps based on their mental health focus, user-friendly interface, availability, and techniques they offer. Based on these factors, these five apps are an excellent place to start if you’re looking for a boost to your mental health.

Calm

  • Price: $14.99 per month or $69.99 annual subscription
  • Features: Meditations, masterclasses, music, soothing sounds, sleep stories, gentle exercises and educational guides

Calm is a mindfulness and meditation app designed to help you live a more productive, stress-free life. The app offers guided meditations, sleep stories, breathing exercises and relaxation tools to help you wind down and fall asleep.

“Those with mental health struggles often feel burdened by negative thought patterns, but by making use of Calm, users can meditate to focus their attention on their breath and/or the present moment which can help eliminate jumbled and overwhelming negativity within their minds,” explains Dr. Popilski.

The “Calm Body” feature offers stretching and yoga videos to help you relax. The app also caters to children with its “Calm Kids” section of meditation exercises, lullabies and peaceful sounds.

Headspace

  • Price: $12.99 per month or $69.99 annual subscription
  • Features: Meditations, exercises, inspiring wake-up stories, sleepcasts, music, audio experiences and courses

”Headspace is a useful mental wellness tool that provides guided lessons on mindfulness, sleep, and stress reduction to help people live healthier lives,” explains Glenn. “It has been downloaded by millions of people around the globe and is a highly utilized wellness resource.”

Headspace offers various meditation exercises and tools. The app has a 14-day trial period, after which you pay a monthly or annual subscription fee to access the full library of meditations.

With the app, you can customize your meditation practice to focus on specific goals such as improving sleep, managing stress or enhancing performance. It also has courses where beginners can learn more about guided meditation.

Sanvello

  • Price: Free to $8.99 per month
  • Features: Mood tracking, guided journeys, coping tools, progress assessments and peer support; optional coaching and therapy

Sanvello is a mental health app that offers CBT and meditation therapy exercises to those living with stress, anxiety and depression. The platform features daily mood tracking to help you identify patterns and influences on your mental health.

“Sanvello assists its users in recognizing their negative thought patterns and feelings and subsequently guiding their users towards adopting more productive and healthier thoughts,” says Popilskis.

Through peer support, users can connect with others struggling with similar mental health concerns. These community message boards and chat groups are designed to be safe spaces and are monitored for concerning behavior.

The app also offers articles and videos on coping with anxiety and depression, managing stress and improving sleep.

Happify

  • Price: Free to $14.99 per month and up
  • Features: Assessments, evidence-based mental health exercises, games and progress tracking

Happify is a positive psychology app that offers activities and games to boost your mood and well-being. Each week, you’ll receive new challenges based on your goals, including improving relationships, managing stress or increasing work satisfaction.

“Happify helps individuals overcome their negative thoughts and stress so they can live happier lives,” Glenn notes. “It can be an especially helpful resource for those new to CBT and positive psychology.”

With Happify, you can track your progress over time and see how your mood improves with regular use of the app. The platform also offers articles and tips on topics such as coping with stress, improving sleep and building positive relationships.

Bearable

  • Price: Free to $4.49 per month or $27.99 for annual subscription
  • Features: Mood tracking, symptoms tracking, medication log, activity log, behavior trends, reminders and journaling

Bearable offers tools to help you track your mood, mental health, mental and physical symptoms, medication and more. You can set reminders and sync essential health data from your smart devices.

“Self-tracking allows individuals to be active participants in their mental health by better understanding their specific triggers and learning how to accomplish mood stabilization,” explains Dr. Popilskis.

The app also monitors your progress and offers personalized insights and stats so you can better understand how different treatments impact your health.

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What to Look for in a Mental Health App

Finding the right mental health app may take a little trial and error. Consider the following factors when looking for an app, suggests research from the American Psychiatric Association (APA):

  • Evidence-based: Look for an app that has been tested and proven effective in research studies.
  • Ease of use: The app should be easy to navigate and understand. Keep in mind, though, that some platforms won’t allow full access without a paid membership.
  • Features: Choose an app with features that meet your needs. For example, if you want help with stress relief, try an app that offers guided meditation.
  • Privacy and security: Ensure the app has security features to protect your privacy. Look for a clear privacy policy and the ability to delete your data if you choose to do so.
  • Compatibility: Choose an app that’s compatible with your smart devices. Some apps are only available on specific platforms and operating systems.

Many people find they need to try a few different apps before they find one that works well for them. And that’s okay. Getting into the habit of tracking and managing your mental health is a process and takes consistency. It may take time to find an app that works for your needs.

Pros and Cons of Using Mental Health Apps

“According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are pros and cons to these apps,” says Michael Chon, M.D., a psychiatrist at Bloom Health Centers in Leesburg, Virgina.

Pros include convenience as you can use the app anytime and anywhere, plus many offer anonymity, a possible lower cost than therapy and more, he explains. “Cons may be effectiveness, concerns for privacy, lack of regulation … [plus], online services may not be suitable for those with serious psychiatric disorders,” he says.

Some more pros of mental health apps, according to Dr. Popilskis, are that “mental health apps can be useful in improving one’s mood through journaling, identifying and challenging negative thought patterns, coping and reconnecting with ourselves,”

Downsides or cons, according to Dr. Popilskis, can include “a one-size-fits-all approach rather than direct, personalized care from a licensed mental health practitioner.” If an app evokes strong negative feelings or traumatic memories, a live professional is not available to guide the user to a more sound mindset, she continues.

While some apps offer therapy and may have immediate support, many do not—lending to the idea that people should not use these apps as a sole line of defense or care.

Other Ways to Boost Mental Health

Apps aren’t the only way to boost your mental health. According to experts, lifestyle changes and other therapies can also be helpful, including:

  • Get moving: Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. Walking for 30 minutes a day can help improve both your physical and mental health.
  • Connect with others: Spending time with loved ones can help reduce stress and promote positive emotions.
  • Practice self-care: Make time for activities that nurture your mind, body and soul. This may include yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, journaling or taking a relaxing bath.
  • Eat nutritious foods: A healthy diet, including foods high in omega-3s like salmon and walnuts, may help improve mood and energy levels. Limiting drinks containing caffeine may also be beneficial.
  • Take a break from technology: Disconnecting from your devices can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. It also decreases blue light exposure, which has been linked to insomnia.
  • Get quality sleep: Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night, which could benefit your mental health in numerous ways—including reducing stress levels.
  • Light therapy: This technique involves exposure to bright light, which research suggests can help improve mood and energy levels for those with certain conditions, such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is characterized by symptoms of depression in the winter months.

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When to See a Doctor

If you’re experiencing extreme symptoms of anxiety, depression or another mental health condition, it’s crucial to seek professional help. A mental health app can be a helpful supplement to your treatment plan, but it’s not a replacement for professional care.

“People should see a mental health professional when they feel overwhelmed and unable to manage their day-to-day lives effectively and happily,” says Popsiliskis.

If you’re unsure where to start, ask your primary care doctor for a referral to a mental health professional. You can also search for mental health providers through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA)’s treatment locator tool.

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