The number of people living with depression is staggering. Perhaps even more staggering is that most of these people are living without access to mental health services. While evidence-based interventions are available for depression, often people have little to no access to appropriate help. Fortunately, technology has expanded access to mental health information. Smartphone apps are one of the great ways that technology has improved this access. In this blog, we will share our favorite apps for people living with depression.
Important Note: Mental health smartphone apps are not meant to be used for emergency situations. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for free and confidential 24/7. Call 911 for mental health emergencies.
How Apps Improve Access To Mental Health Care
There are several factors that hinder people from having access to the mental health care they need. These include geography, socioeconomic status, system capacity, treatment costs (direct and indirect), low mental health literacy, cultural beliefs, and stigma (Shen, et al., 2015).
Mental health smartphone apps may offer less stigmatizing treatment options, especially for those who prefer self-help (Wasil, A, et al., 2019). Apps also give people the ability to personalize their treatment to cater their health and informational needs by purchasing or downloading apps at their convenience. Other advantages of apps include constant availability, greater access, equity of mental health resources, immediate support, anonymity, tailored content, lower cost, and increasing service capacity and efficiency (Grist, R., et al., 2017). Apps can help support useful tasks including self-assessment, support between therapy sessions, symptom monitoring, and more (Shen, et al., 2015). They also encourage relaxation, mindfulness, and meditation by providing app users with how-to steps and tips for self-care (Grist, R., et al., 2017).
Our Team’s Favorite Apps For Depression
Calm offers sleep stories that feature well-known voices such as Matthew McConaughey, Ariana Grande, and Kate Winslet. It also offers numerous ways of storytelling, like Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) and fairytales. Don’t worry if you fall asleep, this app offers nap sessions so you can stay on track. This app is highly recommended by Garrett Counseling’s owner/director, Dr. Ashley Garrett, PhD, LPCS, RPTS, ACS, NCC. She is always gushing about how Calm helped her develop better sleep hygiene. Dr. Garrett says, “There was a point a few years back when I realized that my lack of sleep was contributing to my high anxiety. Utilizing the Calm app nightly, I developed a bedtime ritual for myself that was more healthy and consistent.” Calm offers a 7-day free trial, after the trial the app does charge a monthly subscription fee.
Sanvello is packed full of psychoeducation on self-care and tips for practicing mindfulness. A self-care tip from Jessica Mentzer, ALC is “Proper posture can be a small start to increasing positive and confident well being.” You will be able to practice helpful techniques, such as visualization, mindfulness meditation, and muscle relaxation. The app also provides nature sounds to increase relaxation. Sanvello offers both a free version and a paid version.
CBT Thought Diary is a great resource for tracking your mood, as well as short term and long term goals. It offers notifications to prevent forgetfulness. CBT Thought Diary has both a free version and a paid “pro” version.
Daylio is another app that allows you to track your mood and goals (short term and long term). The app sends reminders to help you stay on track. A goal Daylio could help you stay on track with is moving your body throughout the day. Jessica Mentzer, ALC says, “A body at rest will stay at rest and a body in motion will stay in motion, it’s important to get up and get out, it starts the necessary motion to reduce depressive symptoms.” It also takes your entries and generates stats, charts, and correlations to help you notice trends and offers security features to help keep your entries private. Daylio is free.
What’s Up utilizes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy by teaching coping skills including grounding exercises, breathing techniques, cognitive distortions, and thought patterns. “Starting the day with positive self-talk can help keep the blues faded away,” says Counselor Jessica, and What’s Up can help you start that thinking pattern. This app also provides a safe space to connect with others that are struggling with their mental health. What’s Up is a free app.
TalkLife can bridge the gap of support between sessions and provide a safe space to express feelings about depression. It offers community support and connection. TalkLife is free.
Games make things more fun so why not work on your mental health while gaming? Happify works toward improving mood while building resilience and tolerance through the use of evidence-based games and activities. This app uses positive psychology, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and mindfulness. This app has both free and paid versions.
BoosterBuddy provides users with the choice of an animated buddy, as well as setting up a crisis plan when first launching the app. Users can go to the app daily to log their mood, complete “quests,” and use a coin system to promote medication management. “Quests” include ways to increase motivation and sleep, as well as to decrease overeating, depressive symptoms, anxiety, and more. Coins can be used to buy items for the animated buddy, like clothes and shoes. BoosterBuddy is a free app that can be beneficial for young adults, teens, and children.
While not a substitute for therapy, mental health apps can be an effective tool to improve mental health by bridging the gap until your next appointment. If you are looking for a counselor to help you in your struggle with depression, our team of caring counselors is here to help. Contact us today to begin your journey of mental wellness.
For more on technology and mental health:
This article was written by Maegen Harris, M.Ed, ALC (under the supervision of Leah Simmons (#3334)) and Jessica Mentzer, ALC (under the supervision of Megan Campbell (#3120)) – mental health professionals at Garrett Counseling in Boaz and Huntsville, AL.
Wasil, Akash R., Venturo-Conerly, Katherine E., Shingleton, Rebecca M., Weisz, John R., et al. “A Review of Popular Smartphone Apps for Depression and Anxiety: Assessing the Inclusion of Evidence-Based Content.” Behaviour Research and Therapy, Pergamon, 24 Oct. 2019, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0005796719301846.
Grist, R., Porter, J., Stallard, P., “Mental Health Mobile Apps for Preadolescents and Adolescents: A Systematic Review.” J Med Internet Res, 2017, doi: 10.2196/jmir.7332
Shen, N., Levitan, M., Johnson, A., Bender, J.L., Hamilton-Page, M., Jadad, A.R., Wiljer, D., “Finding a Depression App: A Review and Content Analysis of the Depression App Marketplace.” J Med Internet Res, 2015, doi: 10.2196/mhealth.3713