Dr. Elayne Daniels

“There is an app for that” is a phrase Apple trademarked in 2010. And it’s so catchy that it’s often parodied in the media. Almost 15 years later, here we are with apps for just about everything: apps for stores, apps for paying bills, even apps for anxiety and depression.

You heard correctly: apps for mental health.

Since the COVID pandemic, demand for psychotherapy has been high and the supply of licensed providers short. 

Even though the COVID pandemic is over, therapists remain in high demand, with long waiting lists. And many no longer accept insurance, making it that much harder to access and afford psychotherapy.

Using an app for mental health is a tempting and inexpensive way to get help. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the safety and utility of mobile medical apps. (As best I can tell, there are 5 mental health apps that are FDA-approved.)

The effectiveness of apps for anxiety and depression varies. You need to consider factors like quality, cost, features, and especially your own needs when evaluating them.

The most effective apps for anxiety and depression are…

  • convenient. Anxiety and depression apps can be used any time, from anywhere. They’re a helpful option for people without access to traditional treatment or who need support between therapy sessions.
  • cost-effective. Many anxiety and depression apps are free or low-cost, making them an affordable alternative.
  • personalized. The best anxiety and depression apps provide personalized features and tools tailored to the user’s specific needs and symptoms.
  • educational. Anxiety and depression apps can provide information and education, helping users better understand their symptoms and how to manage them.

Mental health apps get extra points if they are…

  • evidence-based. Maybe it’s the nerd in me, but I feel better about practices (including those on apps) based on clinical principles and research. I look for practices that include tools and techniques shown to be helpful. Examples of evidence-based practices for anxiety and depression include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness, and relaxation techniques.
  • user-friendly. If it’s not easy to use, forget it (at least in my opinion). The best apps for anxiety and depression are easy to use and navigate. They provide clear instructions and friendly interfaces to make accessing the app’s features easy.
  • personalized. Effective apps for anxiety and depression are tailored to users’ needs and preferences. Apps that include tools and exercises specific to the user’s symptoms and goals are what I am calling “personalized.” Personalized apps also allow you to track progress and adjust treatment accordingly.
  • engaging. The most effective apps for anxiety and depression are engaging and motivating. They include features like daily challenges and progress tracking that encourage you to use the app regularly. 

Keep in mind that apps are…

  • not a substitute for professional help. While anxiety and depression apps can be helpful for managing symptoms, they are not an alternative to professional help. People with severe or chronic symptoms should seek the help of a mental health professional.
  • not effective for everyone. Anxiety and depression apps aren’t effective for all people. Some users may find that the apps are just not helpful or don’t address their specific symptoms.

Mental health apps are especially unhelpful if they…

  • are ineffective.
  • lack evidence-based content.
  • have confusing interfaces.
  • fail to provide personalized or engaging features.
  • don’t provide users with support to manage symptoms over time.

Anxiety and depression apps can be useful for people with mild to moderate symptoms who are looking for extra support or who may not have access to traditional treatment. 

In addition, people interested in tracking their progress may also benefit from using these apps.

Depression and anxiety are common and tough to manage, even with professional help. Fortunately, several mobile apps are available to help you.

Here are 11 of the most effective apps for depression and anxiety:

  1. Headspace provides guided meditations and mindfulness exercises that help you reduce anxiety, improve mood, and increase well-being.
  2. Calm is another mindfulness app that offers guided meditations, breathing exercises, and sleep stories to help reduce stress and anxiety.
  3. Moodfit is a comprehensive mood-tracking app that helps you monitor emotional states and identify depression or anxiety triggers.
    With Moodfit, you can set specific daily goals, boost your mood, and learn what’s lifting your mood and what’s lowering it.
  4. Pacifica is a self-help app that includes tools for tracking mood. It also provides meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) exercises to help you manage symptoms of anxiety and depression.
    Pacifica’s design is well suited for teens and young adults with mild to moderate distress.
    Its strength lies in the combination of active chat groups and tools for coping.
  5. MoodMission is an app with customized challenges and activities to help when you’re feeling down or anxious. The app helps you learn better ways of coping with stress, depression, and anxiety.
    Tell MoodMission how you’re feeling, and it will give you a tailored list of 5 Missions that can help you feel better and improve your wellbeing.
    Missions are mental health strategies that are quick, easily achievable, and backed up by scientific evidence.
    Anyone can use MoodMission, whether you just want a lift in your day or need help recovering from anxiety or depression.
  6. Happify is an app that offers games and activities to build resilience, reduce stress, and improve emotional well-being.
  7. Sanvello is a mental health app that provides tools for tracking mood, as well as meditation and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) exercises to help manage symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  8. MoodTools helps manage symptoms of depression through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) activities.
    It has three sections: A depression questionnaire, mood-tracking, and a safety plan.
    MoodTools has a Thought Diary to help with negative thinking. It also provides educational information about depression, self-help guidelines, and links to other resources.
    Users can take the PHQ-9 depression questionnaire and track symptoms over time.
    MoodTools will also suggest activities, such as practicing gratitude.
    You can also create a safety plan for emergency resources during a crisis.
  9. WorryWatch offers a guided coping journal, guided coping techniques (breathing, grounding, visualization, meditation), a mood journal and tracker, and positive affirmations.
  10. CBT Companion is an app that teaches Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) using activities, videos, and interactive tools.
    The app includes a journal for logging mood, while activities in the app help with reframing negative thoughts.
    The lessons in the app’s free version cover topics such as Errors in Thinking and Applying CBT.
  11. Breathe Think Do with Sesame Street helps kids learn methods to calm down, identify their feelings, and problem-solve.

Apps are not a substitute for therapy services.

They can, however, be useful as a supplement to therapy and as a way to seek more support. Check them out! 

Dr. Elayne Daniels is an international coach, consultant, and psychologist. To read more blog articles about depression and anxiety, click here.

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