While most mental health practitioners probably wouldn't advise people spend more time with their smartphones, there are some apps that can turn screen time into time well-spent. These apps provide tools for people looking to improve their lives. Some are designed to help those struggling with issues like depression , anxiety , or PTSD , while others are based on positive psychology and aim to increase focus, happiness, and calm through mindfulness and meditation .
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), an estimated 48.3 million adults in the U.S. deal with some type of mental health condition each year. If you are struggling with your mental health, it is important to first seek help from a doctor, psychologist, or mental health practitioner. These apps are not meant to be a substitute for face-to-face care. But, they could be a great supplement to therapy, or a super-convenient strategy for someone looking to start new, healthier habits. One study found that 90% of people who tried a mental health app reported improvements in motivation, confidence, and attitudes about mental and emotional health.
Here, find some of the best apps in the mental health space.
Best for Meditation
Headspace is a great and simple app for beginning meditators looking to learn as well as more advanced meditators who want to deepen their practice. It offers meditation series that address various topics, like anxiety, stress, sleep, and physical exercise.
It has a wide array of features including “sleepcasts,” which are unique, soothing audio experiences to help you drift off, 2-3-minute mini-meditations to help you quickly achieve a mental shift, “SOS” meditations designed to help you during moments of intense stress or emotion, and educational animations to clearly explain and demonstrate mindfulness and meditation topics.
More than six million people use the free meditation app Insight Timer . It offers courses on how to meditate, a fan-favorite meditation timer (for those who prefer unguided meditations), and an expansive free library of more than 35,000 guided meditations (including for sleep) with renowned teachers like Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Kristin Neff.
It will also track your progress and streaks with charts. What type of meditation works best for you is incredibly personal, and this app is great for people who are still figuring out what sorts of meditations they prefer and the types of voices and guides that are most beneficial to them.
Smiling Mind was the brainchild of two mindfulness and meditation enthusiasts in Australia. They set out to make mindfulness and meditation accessible to everyone, whatever their budget, and wherever they might be. All you need is 10 minutes a day. This app offers guided meditations for adults but is mostly geared toward children to improve their mental health and academic performance. Since 2012, the app has successfully reached 4.1 million young people.
INSCAPE has a brick and mortar meditation studio in New York City, but regardless of where you are in the world, with its app, you can focus on the areas in your life that you’re most looking to improve. Depending on whether you’d like to de-stress, sleep better, boost your confidence, or be more efficient at work, INSCAPE will suggest a practice that will be most beneficial to your goals. Sessions include breathing exercises, guided positive visualizations , meditations, and more.
Best for Stress
Stop, Breathe, Think
This app was created by the folks at the nonprofit Tools For Peace , which teaches mindfulness and meditation to teens and empowers them to become more compassionate. Developed for adults, teens, and children, it is perfect when for when you’re overwhelmed by intense emotions like anxiety, stress, sadness, or anger. When you notice intense feelings arise, you can turn to the app, and it guides you through the practice of stopping, calming your mind and body through breathing , observing your thoughts, and then participating in a short meditation.
Cost: Packages range from as little as $4.91/month to a one-time fee of $299 for unlimited lifetime access
Download here for Apple
Download here for Android
An Apple Best of 2018 award winner, Calm's offerings run the gamut from masterclasses (on things like creativity and holistic health) and guided videos on stretching, to sleep stories (think soothing bedtime stories for grownups) and meditation series that address specific areas in life, like anxiety, focus, self-esteem, and self-care. There are meditations for college students and meditations and sleep stories for kids as well. Each day, there is a new “Daily Calm” meditation with a different theme, and you can track the number of days and minutes you meditate.
This app pairs your current mental state with the best meditation or relaxation strategies to help you reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, as well as increase happiness. Aura offers guided meditations, relaxing nature sounds, short stories to redirect your worrying mind, tranquil music, a place to note things you’re grateful for, and more.
Created by the Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD and the U.S. Department of Defense National Center for Telehealth and Technology, PTSD Coach is designed to assist people who suffer from—or who may suffer from—post-traumatic stress disorder. It offers a self-assessment to help determine whether you may be suffering from PTSD, resources on how to reach out and get professional care, and tools to help manage the stresses of day-to-life. There are relaxation exercises and activities to help with anger management as well as positive self-talk.
Best for Mindfulness
Happier was created to be a “personal mindfulness coach,” and to help you observe and regulate your emotions throughout the day while maximizing joy, peace, and happiness. It offers inspirational quotes, meditation exercises, a place to record things for which you’re grateful, courses on happiness and well-being, and an opportunity to communicate with likeminded people who are also using the app.
Cost: Free, with in-app purchases
Download here for Apple
This app is not yet available for Android
The Mindfulness App
The aim of The Mindfulness App is to make the practice of mindfulness accessible to everyone. Research has shown that many of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation happen with consistent practice, but many people struggle to remember or make time each day. This app offers gentle reminders throughout the day, guided meditations for both experienced and novice meditators (as well as those in between), and timers for those who prefer silent meditation.
10% Happier: Meditation
This app , which claims to be “for fidgety skeptics,” was created by Dan Harris, a broadcast journalist and the author of the book, 10% Happier . Winner of an Apple Best Of 2018 award, The app aims to demystify meditation and offers simple hacks to help aspiring meditators follow through. There are how-to videos, guided sessions geared toward topics like anxiety and political stress, advice for how to maintain a regular meditation practice as well as how to apply the lessons learned in mindfulness throughout your day.
Instead of taking time out of your day to meditate, Buddhify aims to seamlessly weave meditation into your life wherever you are—both physically and emotionally. All of the meditations offered, which range from just four minutes up to 30 minutes, are categorized so that you can find the perfect one for the moment you’re in.
There are sessions that are great for walking or taking a break from work, others for when you may be feeling intense anxiety, and more still for when you are trying to go to sleep. There are also meditations that can be done with other people—like friends, family, or coworkers—and you can also send meditations to people who you think might benefit from one, even if they don’t have the app.
Best for Depression
This app , which is based on the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy , was created to help people struggling with depression. It can also help those who are dealing with anxiety, stress, anger, and other issues, as it helps to identify thought patterns that lead to negative feelings and offers up alternate ways of thinking during tough times.
It offers features like relaxing breathing techniques, a journal to keep track of thoughts and moods, guided exercises to help you feel grounded, and other inspirational materials.
Cost: Free, but offers in-app purchases
Download here for Apple
Download here for Android
Based on mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy, this app is designed to help people dealing with depression, anxiety, and stress. Formerly known as Pacifica, Sanvello helps users to identify thought and behavior patterns that lead to negative feelings and then helps you to reframe those thoughts and change behaviors to help you live a life closer to the one you want.
Through the app, you can track your moods , do breathing exercises and meditations, set daily challenges and long-term goals , connect with Sanvello’s peer support community, explore different self-help strategies, and track your progress.
MoodTools offers the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) to help you determine if you are suffering from depression, and then track the severity of your symptoms over time. It offers activities to boost your mood, helpful videos (like TED Talks and meditations), a place to record and keep track of your moods and feelings, as well as a feature that helps you develop a wellness and safety plan for times of crisis.
Best For Anxiety
Breathe2Relax teaches diaphragmatic breathing, a technique that increases oxygen capacity that's been shown to lower the heart rate, lower blood pressure, and help relieve stress. This type of breathing can help people who are experiencing panic, anxiety, PTSD, or anger. The app features videos, reading materials, and ways for users to track their progress.
Panic Relief is designed by a Danish psychiatrist and specialist in cognitive therapy to help in the midst of high anxiety or a panic attack . Through short animations, the app guides you through the sensations that accompany panic and helps you to stay calm during an attack.
The app offers various resources to help you to understand what is happening in your body during a panic attack as well as activities—like breathing and relaxation exercises, as well as positive visualization—to help you to soothe and calm yourself, and in some cases, stave off some symptoms.
Download here for Apple
Download here for Android
Depending on what type of mental state you are looking to achieve, Brain.fm uses AI-generated music to optimize brain function by encouraging neurons to lock in to patterns to achieve a desired state of mind. Whether you are looking to focus, fall asleep, meditate, or relax, the makers of this app say that you will notice results within 15 minutes.
Best for Productivity/Habits
Rated one of the best self-care apps by Apple in 2018, this app educates, motivates, and inspires you to achieve the goals you’ve set while tracking your progress. Through research on how to break unhealthy habits and establish healthier ones , this app teaches you how to build healthy habits in 30 days.
From struggling to pop out of bed in the morning to managing stress, focus, and establishing productive routines, this app is ready to help you ditch what’s not serving you and do more of what is.
Whether you’re trying to break a caffeine habit or are trying to establish new, healthy patterns like exercising or meditating, HabitBull will help keep you on track. Once you are able to clearly see the patterns in your life, it will be easier to address them head-on. With inspiring quotes, charts of your progress, reminder notifications, and easy-to-see streaks, this app helps hold you accountable to the goals you’ve set while motivating you to achieve them.
Productive is a clear, simple app that helps you to manage your to-do lists, set goals and routines, and track your progress. It offers users help in breaking negative habits and forming new, healthier habits. Users can specify what time of day they want to partake in a particular activity, for how long, and how often, and the app shows users their successful streaks, sends them motivating reminders, and charts their growth.
This visually striking app won an Apple design award in 2016. With a clear and bold interface, Streaks helps you track the consecutive days—or streaks—on which you successfully don’t engage in negative habits and do follow through with new, positive behaviors. Streaks reads your data in Apple's Health app, and motivates you to continue on to reach your goals.
Download Here for Apple
This app is currently unavailable on Android
National Alliance on Mental Illness. Mental health by the numbers .
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