What do you do when you can’t afford therapy but are struggling to handle your mental illness alone? You could download an app. In recent years, there’s been a proliferation of mental health apps available to smartphone users. These reasonably-priced, or most often free, mental health apps offer a wealth of resources that make therapeutic techniques more accessible, portable, and cost-effective. Within minutes, you can find and download a myriad of apps that incorporate proven techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), and address everything from depression to eating disorder recovery, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and more.

While the vast majority of these apps do not have peer-reviewed research to support their claims, health experts predict that they will play an important role in the future of mental health care by providing innovative solutions for the self-management of mental health disorders.

Sal Raichbach, PsyD, LCSW says that mental health apps have the potential to reach people who would otherwise not receive help by removing the barriers to treatment. “Sadly, only a small percentage of people actively seek professional help for their mental health problems,” he says. “This could be for any number of reasons: they may not be physically able to leave their homes due to severe anxiety or lack of mobility, or they may not have the financial means.”

“But now, with the emergence of mental health apps, these people can finally receive the help they’ve been seeking,” says Dr. Raichbach. “Another benefit of these apps is they allow for privacy and confidentiality. These apps are a safe space for individuals who may be too ashamed to admit their mental health issues in person or who may feel that they will be negatively labeled or stigmatized by others. This private method allows these individuals to have that sense of separation that they need while still being able to find the answers to their questions all within the comfort of their own homes.”

Will Mental Health Apps Be the End of Therapy?

So, what kind of mental health app could be of real value to people struggling with mental health challenges? According to Dr. Raichbach, “the ideal app will also have mental health practitioners onboard, ready to answer questions, plus a 24/7 support hotline for more severe cases.”

But other mental health professionals question the effectiveness of mental health apps when used in isolation. Tanisha Ranger, PsyD, a psychologist who has used a variety of mental health apps with her patients, finds they’re an excellent way to help people stay connected outside of sessions to the work they are doing in therapy, but is critical of their use as an alternative or replacement for traditional treatment.

“I see mental health apps being very useful for people who cannot get to sessions as often as they would like, but I do not view them as a substitute for therapy,” she says. “If a person is actually in need of therapy, these are a great supplement, but they cannot take the place of engaging with someone who can offer individualized interpretations and insights that an app cannot provide.”

Jean Otto, PhD, a psychologist in California, agrees. “I don’t think the apps can replace traditional therapy, even in the future,” she says. “The work that is done in therapy requires vulnerability and exposure on the part of the patient, in the presence of another person, followed by an empathic connection to promote change and acceptance.”

While ideally these new digital tools would be used as a supplementary treatment to traditional therapy, for those who aren’t able to access the support of a mental health practitioner, mental health apps offer valuable support and guidance.

If you lack the time or resources or just want some additional help in addressing mental health needs, check out one of these highly-regarded apps today. Take a look below at our roundup of the best mental health apps and see if using one can help you feel better.

General Mental Health Apps

What’s Up

What's Up

What’s up is an amazing free app that uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) methods to help you cope with Depression, Anxiety, Stress, and more. Use the positive and negative habit tracker to maintain your good habits, and break those that are counterproductive. We particularly love the “Get Grounded” page, which contains over 100 different questions to pinpoint what you’re feeling, and the “Thinking Patterns” page, which teaches you how to stop negative internal monologues. Try it out for yourself.

(Free; iOS and Android)

 

Mood Kit

MoodKit

MoodKit uses the foundation of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and provides users with over 200 different mood improvement activities. Developed by two clinical psychologists, MoodKit helps you learn how to change how you think, and develop self-awareness and healthy attitudes. The journal feature is a great way to practice self-care by reflecting on the day, noting any distressing thoughts, and documenting how you overcame them.

($4.99; iOS)

 

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Addiction Apps

Twenty-Four Hours a Day

twenty-four hours a day

Based on the best-selling book of the same name, Twenty-Four Hours a Day offers 366 meditations from the book, making it easier for people in recovery from addiction to focus on sobriety wherever they are.

($5.99 iOS and Android)

 

Quit That!

quit that!

Quit That! is a completely free app that helps users beat their habits or addictions. Whether you’re looking to stop drinking alcohol, quit smoking, or stop taking drugs, it’s the perfect recovery tool to track and monitor your progress. Track as many vices as you want and find out how many minutes, hours, days, weeks, or years it’s been since you quit.

(Free; iOS)

 

Anxiety Apps

Mind Shift

mindshift

Mind Shift is one of the best mental health apps designed specifically for teens and young adults with anxiety. Rather than trying to avoid anxious feelings, Mind Shift stresses the importance of changing how you think about anxiety. Think of this app as the cheerleader in your pocket, encouraging you to take charge of your life, ride out intense emotions, and face challenging situations.

(Free; iOS and Android)

 

Self-Help for Anxiety Management (SAM)

self-management for anxiety SAM

SAM might be perfect for you if you’re interested in self-help, but meditation isn’t your thing. Users are prompted to build their own 24-hour anxiety toolkit that allows you to track anxious thoughts and behavior over time, and learn 25 different self-help techniques. You can also use SAM’s “Social Cloud” feature to confidentially connect with other users in an online community for additional support.

(Free; iOS and Android)

 

CBT Thought Record Diary

CBT thought record diary

The centerpiece of cognitive-behavioral therapy is changing your emotions by identifying negative and distorted thinking patterns. You can use CBT Thought Record Diary to document negative emotions, analyze flaws in your thinking, and reevaluate your thoughts. This is a great app for gradually changing your approach to anxiety-inducing situations and your thinking patterns for future situations.

(Free; iOS and Android)

Bipolar Disorder Apps

Bipolar Disorder Connect 

bipolar disorder connect

Bipolar disorder can be frustrating, especially if you don’t have anyone close to you that can identify with your struggles. Bipolar Disorder Connect is a great app that connects people with bipolar disorder from around the world. This tool gives you access to a community of people living with the condition. The app also features tracking tools to help you monitor your moods and share those updates.

(Free; iOS)

IMoodJournal

imood journal

Part personal journal and part mood tracker, IMoodJournal can be used to record everything from mood and symptoms, to sleep, medications, and energy cycles. By tracking these various factors, you’re able to analyze your daily feelings through summary charts that indicate where your stress levels rise and fall.

($1.99; iOS and Android)

 

Stigma

stigma

The journal component of Stigma is considered one of the best in a crowded field. The app’s word cloud technology recognizes which words you use the most when writing down your feelings allowing you to reflect on why these are your go-to emotions. We also love the app’s social network dimension, which allows users to connect with peers through messaging. You can share your journal too and get feedback if you’d like support from others.

(Free; iOS)

Depression Apps

Talkspace Online Therapy

Talkspace

Can’t afford to visit a therapist but still wish you had one to talk to? Talkspace makes that possible. For just $25 per week, you can text message a trained professional as often as you need. They also offer services for individuals and couples, so if your significant other want to learn how to support you through your depression, they can download the app too.

($49/week; iOS and Android)

 

Happify

Happify

Need a happy fix? With its psychologist-approved mood-training program, the Happify app is your fast-track to a good mood. Try various engaging games, activity suggestions, gratitude prompts and more to train your brain as if it were a muscle, to overcome negative thoughts. The best part? Its free!

(Free; iOS and Android)

 

MoodTools

Mood Tools

 

MoodTools aims to support people with clinical depression by aiding the path to recovery. Discover helpful videos that can improve your mood and behavior, log and analyze your thoughts using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) principles, develop a suicide safety plan and more with this free app.

(Free; iOS and Android)

Eating Disorder Apps

Recovery Record

Recovery Record

Recovery Record is a great app for anyone recovering from an eating disorder and wanting to develop a more positive body image. Keep a record of the meals you eat and how they make you feel using the app and complete questionnaires that’ll help you track your progress over time. One user calls Recovery Record a “remarkable recovery tool”; “It helps me stick to my meal plan, provides an outlet to vent about my food concerns and helps me stay intact with my body to work with it rather than against.”

(Free; iOS and Android)

Rise Up and Recover

Rise Up and Recover

Rise Up + Recover is a unique app as it not only allows you to track your meals and how you feel when you eat them, but you can also transcribe your progress into a PDF printout. Pull up the Rise + Recover app on your mobile when you feel the urge to binge or skip a meal, and need quick coping strategies.

(Free; iOS and Android)

 

Lifesum

Lifesum

Unlike the other apps featured in this list, Lifesum is a broader resource for all things healthy living. The app allows you to set personal goals, from eating healthier, to building more muscle and getting in more steps each day. You can also enter your own personal data and let Lifesum generate a “Life Score” to get a personalized roadmap to better health. With reminders to drink water and eat regularly throughout the day, Lifesum is a great option for anyone trying to live healthier, but for people with eating disorders, this app can be used to help you redefine how you think about healthy body image.

(Free; iOS and Android)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Apps

nOCD

nocd

nOCD was designed with the help of OCD specialists and patients to incorporate two treatments: mindfulness and Exposure Response Prevention Treatment. You can receive immediate, clinically-supported guidance when an OCD episode strikes, take weekly tests to assess the severity of your OCD, and have motivational support along the way. One user calls nOCD “a free therapist in your pocket!”

(Free; iOS)

Worry Watch

worry watch

One of the most frustrating parts of living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can be dealing with intense anxiety despite the fact you know your worries are irrational. Worry Watch aims to help users identify their trigger points for anxiety, note trends in their feelings, reflect on when the outcomes were harmless, and change their thinking patterns for the future. Think of it as your personal, password-protect, worry diary.

($1.99; iOS)

Live OCD Free

Live OCD Free

Live OCD Free claims it has been shown to reduce OCD symptoms by 34% in just 8 weeks! The app guides users through Exposure and Response Prevention treatment, helps you to create practice goals, and provides a multitude of tools to help fight OCD at any given moment. You can also try their newly-launched forum (accessible from the website) for ongoing support from OCD experts and sufferers.

($29.99; iOS)

PTSD Apps

PTSD Coach

ptsd coach

Created by the VA’s National Center for PTSD, PTSD Coach offers everything from a self-assessment for PTSD, to opportunities to find support, positive self-talk, and anger management. What’s great about this app is that you can customize tools based on your own individual needs and preferences, and integrate your own contacts, photos, and music.

(Free; iOS and Android)

 

Breathe2Relax

breathe2relax

Sometimes you just need to breathe and remind yourself you are okay. Breathe2Relax is made for just that. Created by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, this app is a portable stress management tool that teaches users a skill called diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe2Relax works by decreasing the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ stress response, making it a great option for people suffering from PTSD.

(Free; iOS and Android)

Schizophrenia Apps

UCSF PRIME

UCSF PRIME

Schizophrenia patients are prone to social isolation even when their condition is treated. The PRIME app, created by psychiatry professor Danielle Shlosser, connects people with schizophrenia to their peers through a social network style interface. It also lets users track “challenge goals,” things they’d like to accomplish or improve about themselves.

(Free; iOS and Android)

 

Stress Apps

Headspace

headspace

The Headspace app makes meditation simple. Learn the skills of mindfulness and meditation by using this app for just a few minutes per day. You gain access to hundreds of meditations on everything from stress and anxiety to sleep and focus. The app also has a handy “get some headspace” reminder to encourage you to keep practicing each day.

($12.99/Month; iOS and Android)

 

Calm

calm

Named by Apple as the 2017 iPhone App of the Year, Calm is quickly becoming regarded as one of the best mental health apps available. Calm provides people experiencing stress and anxiety with guided meditations, sleep stories, breathing programs, and relaxing music. This app is truly universal; whether you’ve never tried meditation before or regularly practice, you’ll find the perfect program for you.

(Free; iOS and Android)

Suicide Prevention Apps

MY3

my3

MY3 is aimed at people who are depressed and suicidal, and trains users to recognize suicide warning signs in others. MY3 asks you to choose three close contacts that you feel comfortable reaching out to when you’re down and keeps you connected to this core network. This best part of this app is that it helps you create your own safety plan asking you to think through and list your own warning signs, coping strategies and support network, so that you can easily act when you recognize your warning signs.

(Free; iOS and Android)

Last Updated: Feb 13, 2018