In our modern and technologically savvy society you can find an app for almost anything. If you can think it, it's probably out there. Looking for fart noises? There’s iFart Mobile. Want to find people nearby who want to cuddle? There’s Spoonr. I think it’s safe to say that there is an app for everything you could imagine.
With that in mind, doing a quick Google search for mental health apps will give you hundreds, if not thousands of options. How do we sort through all of these?
I’ve gone ahead and put together a small list as a starting point for you to explore what the options are in the giant world wide web when it comes to apps for mental health and wellness. I’ve sorted them into two distinct categories, evidence-based and/or research based, and non-researched. It’s important to note that when it comes to any sort of treatment for mental health (or any type of health for that matter) it's best to be looking towards evidence-based best practices.
So what is evidence-based practice (EBP)? EBP is an approach to treatment that involves research regarding whether the treatment actually works and why it works. Essentially it is the proof that what we are doing makes clinical sense. Evidence-based practice is the opposite of choosing your heart medication because you like the colour of the pill. If your doctor wrote on your medical chart that he chose the blue heart pill over the purple one because his favourite colour is blue, that wouldn’t make much sense, would it?
Below you will find a few great examples of apps that have at least some scientific credibility.
This app was developed by The Royal Ottawa Hospital and was initially aimed at teens.
However, it is a useful tool for anyone to try out. The app was built to help people juggle their various commitments and tasks and promote healthy motivation to accomplish things. It has a mood tracker, journaling section to help identify emotions, a problem solving guide that even links to the calendar in your iPhone and has various strategies to help with daily stress. Most of the concepts for this app come from an evidenced-based therapeutic approach called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. When I communicated with the Vice President of Communications and Partnerships at the Royal, Nicole Loreto, she shared that the in-house clinical team developed the app and “all information is evidence-based and tested on high school students.” As of writing this, the app has been downloaded more than 25,000 from people all over the world.
This app is similar to the Healthy Minds app in that it uses self-monitoring and has prompts and ideas about coping (for instance relaxation strategies and thinking srtategies.) The major difference in the app is that this one is particularly aimed at people who are struggling with anxiety. The SAM app was developed by a team at the University of West England Bristol in conjunction with a mobile app development company. The team who developed the app included computer scientists, a psychologists and students. The developers evaluated each stage using trials on users who were experts, health care practitioners and students.
The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) developed an app for people who are aiming to reduce or abstain from drinking, called "Saying When". Essentially, the app is designed to help people self-monitor and track their drinking in order to help reduce it. CAMH was using a paper-based program like this designed by a doctor for many years, and recently used technology to make it more accessible and inconspicuous. Unfortunately, this app does not have an Android version.
Now, let's go back to the example of the doctor who chose a blue pill because he likes the colour (by the way, if your doctor ever uses this as a justification, please report it to their college!) There is a chance that the blue pill is the exact right medication for you to be taking for your cardiac condition, however your doctor didn’t use evidence to back up the decision, hence the word chance. We can compare that to some of the other apps I’ve selected below.
There is a chance that some of these apps below will be useful to you. Just because these apps have not been researched or tested does not mean that they won’t work or do not have value. Just keep in mind that although they may not be found scientifically credible, you may find them useful in some shape or form. And if not, there is the beauty of them being FREE and being able to uninstall them from your phone.
Other (not as scientific) Great Apps
One of my personal favourites is the Calm app. While this app is free, there are in-app purchases that you can upgrade to in order to unlock more content, however I find the free portions of the app to be just enough. This app is a great relaxation tool. It is based in principles of Mindfulness. A very brief and rudimentary understanding of mindfulness is that it is a state of nonjudgmental awareness in the present moment. It is being aware and engaged in the present moment (whereas many of us are caught constantly living in the past, what has happened, or the future, what will happen.) The app is great in that it has a calm and relaxing voice walk you through meditation exercises of varying lengths (depending on your preference.) If you just need a break from the business of life, this is a great app to try out.
SuperBetter is an all encompassing app that claims to be able to encourage users to increase their optimism and resilience in order to tackle difficult life problems. SuperBetter uses the concept of gaming in order to encourage users to reach their goals. SuperBetter claims that it can help people “adopt a new habit, develop a talent, learn or improve a skill, strengthen a relationship, make a physical or athletic breakthrough, complete a meaningful project, or pursue a lifelong dream” an addition to helping users struggling with depression, anxiety, or chronic illness.
This app describes itself as an “online emotional support service” where people can connect anonymously to trained “listeners.” You can receive real-time chat support for whatever it is that you need to talk about. Although the app claims that it’s listeners are trained in active listening, keep in mind that these listeners are not trained mental health practitioners. This seems like a great option for people who may be feeling isolated or need an outsider perspective on a problem.
Addiction and Mental Health Mobile Application Directory
If you’re looking for apps for a specific disorder or mental health concern (for example Anxiety disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depressive disorders, Dementia or Eating disorders). I highly recommend this report put out by Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Addiction and Mental Health Research Partnership Program.
**Please note** that as awesome and helpful as these apps are, they cannot be a substitute for professional medical support and diagnosis. If you are concerned regarding your mental health and wellbeing please reach out to a medical professional such as a general medical practitioner, psychologist, or psychotherapist.
Courtney Smyth is a Registered Psychotherapist and Certified Canadian Counsellor in private practice in Ottawa, Ontario. Courtney takes a very client-centred approach to counselling and works collaboratively with clients to move towards their goals for therapy. If you are interested in learning more, please feel free to contact her to book an appointment.