Part Two: Some Personal Tips and Recommendations for Mental Health Apps
Now that we’ve covered the practical considerations of choosing an app in part one, part two will look at a few different apps that are available, how they work and what we recommend.
The most commonly available features in mental health apps are mood tracking and symptom monitoring, which can be a logical starting point if you’ve noticed your moods have changed but aren’t sure why. Keeping a log can help you to identify if there is something specific that might be triggering low moods or increased anxiety and may even be useful to share with a healthcare provider, including your general practitioner.
If you have a diagnosed mental health condition like bipolar disorder, depression or anxiety, or even if this is all new to you, apps that monitor moods and symptoms can also act as an early warning system to give you time to put some support systems in place including seeking professional help, reaching out to trusted family and friends and putting a suicide prevention plan in place if needed. You are often the best judge of your own needs but we highly recommend you find an app that can provide real time professional support, will encourage you to seek further help if you are experiencing emotional distress and provide some tools to manage your symptoms, not just symptom tracking alone.
If you suffer from anxiety, whether diagnosed or not, apps that offer Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), can be incredibly effective, especially when combined with professional counselling or internet-based programmes like Mood Gym, mentioned previously in the earlier Living with Anxiety post. CBT can help to re-train your brain and challenge recurring unhelpful thoughts so having this support wherever you go with an app is fantastic. ReachOut’s WorryTime is a free app uses the principles of CBT to help stop anxiety by providing a place for you to ‘file away’ your worries throughout the day until your pre-determined allocated ‘worry time’ each day, allowing you to get on with your life.
Relationship Break Ups
Maybe you wouldn’t usually identify as someone with a mental health concern but you’ve just been through a messy or difficult breakup and need some extra backup – There’s an app for that too. Breakup Shakeup is a free app developed by the Queensland University of Technology and available on the Apple App Store. While it may be a little simplistic for some, it offers suggestions and prompts for distractions and activities that can settle your emotional equilibrium and get you back on track.
Depression, Stress and Anxiety
Mood Mission is another evidenced based, free app for both Apple and Android that was developed by researchers from Monash University, University of Melbourne and the University of Canberra through crowd funding. Mood Mission can be used to track how you are feeling and then give you personalised recommendations to help improve your mood. It helps you to regain control of your feelings and thoughts so you can manage everyday stress and anxiety and improve your mental coping skills over time. The developers are working on new functionality that will allow you to share information with your healthcare provider so keep an eye out for that feature.
If you’ve heard of mindfulness but aren’t sure where to start, Smiling Mind is a tool that was developed by psychologists to help both children and adults to learn and practice mindfulness to help achieve calm, balance and mental wellbeing. Mindfulness is not as easy as it sounds and may not be suitable if you are experiencing a flare-up of a serious mental health condition but this app is free and only takes 10 minutes a day. Mindfulness is a useful tool to have at the ready to maintain mental wellbeing and prevent recurring problems.
It’s important to recognize that apps are most effective for mild to moderate symptoms and if your mental health condition or symptoms are severe, you will need to seek professional support as well – This is not optional! Like we mentioned in the last post, you need to be aware of some of the disadvantages of apps as well as the benefits, including the potential for over analysis and self-diagnosis and delays in seeking treatment medical or psychological treatment from a mental health practitioner, like a counsellor or psychologist.
Finally, if you’ve been using apps and they just aren’t cutting it (or even if you haven’t tried one yet) but you are struggling and feel like you are slipping beyond recovery, don’t wait and put off getting help. Taking the first step to approach a mental health practitioner is hard and can be daunting, especially if you’ve never seen one before or it’s been a while. Getting help is not a failure, it’s about taking back control of your mind and body and learning how to keep that control in good and bad times. You can contact us here or use the Lifeline Service Finder to locate someone in your local area who can help or find immediate support in a crisis.
Part One: What to Look for in Good (and Bad) Mental Health Apps
You aren’t alone if you’ve ever turned to the online world for support with mental health concerns, for yourself or someone you care about. If you have, chances are you’ve encountered the ever-growing array of apps that claim to do everything from teaching meditation, mindfulness and mood tracking to curing mental illness and hypnosis. Apps can be an invaluable resource to improve and support mental wellbeing and prevent more serious mental health flare-ups, but not all mental health apps are created equal and deliver what they claim. In fact, some can do more harm than good.
So how can you tell the good apps from the bad?
There are a few things to consider from both a practical and personal perspective to help you navigate and spot the good apps from the not-so-good. Because there is so much to think about, we’ve split this into two parts. In part one, we’ll focus on the practical aspects of picking an app for mental health concerns like anxiety, depression and supporting mental wellbeing. In part two, we’ll run through some of the other important aspects like the different features available and some recommendations of evidence-based apps from reliable and respected organisations.
While most apps are available for both Apple iOS through the App Store and Android from Google Play, it’s worthwhile thinking about the device you are going to use the most to access the app. It’s hard to go past the convenience and omnipresence of your smart phone but it’s a good idea to make sure whatever devices you use are secured with a pin and not accessed by others (if you don’t want them to). Data security is also really important and you are generally in with a better chance of maintaining privacy and anonymity if you choose an app from a reputable organization, like a well-known university or health care provider. The other benefit of using an app from a university or healthcare provider is that it’s more likely to be evidence-based (and less likely to waste your time or cause you harm). ReachOut has a list of evidence-based mental health apps aimed at young people (under 25) and students but it’s worth a look for people of any age, especially if you are a parent and exam time is looming for your child. Before downloading an app, check to see whether it requires an internet connection and how much data it’s likely to use. If it doesn’t use data, it may be more difficult to access real time help and support if you need it.
Whether you need to pay for an app is not necessarily an indication of quality or safety. In the end, it comes down to the features and tools that you need and the level of support that fits your situation. Apps that target more than one type of mental health concern are useful, as we know that many mental health challenges like anxiety and depression often occur together and the last thing you need is multiple apps to use and keep track of. MoodKit has been highly-rated and offers a one-stop-shop for mood and thought tracking, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and journaling although it does come at a small cost.
Avoid apps that make outlandish claims, like being able to cure mental illness. Apps that only offer mood and symptom tracking without providing assistance or strategies for symptom management should also be used with caution and generally only to complement care provided by a mental health practitioner, like a counsellor, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist.
Some pitfalls of using apps for mental health to be aware of include the dreaded and crippling over-analysis, the dangers of self-diagnosis and the potential to delay seeking professional help.
With that said, free mental health apps are a really good place to start to explore what’s out there and work out the kinds of features you want without making a financial commitment. If you need immediate crisis intervention, you can contact Lifeline here.