The Best Mental Health and Wellbeing Apps
By: Iman Taouil
In this digital era where owning a smartphone is practically a rule, there is an app for everything. Today, going on a date is as simple as swiping right, buying groceries can be done with the tap of a button, and now, millions of people are turning to their devices for mental health support.
Mental health and wellbeing apps come in many forms: Meditation and relaxation walkthroughs, breathing exercises to cope with anxiety, mood trackers, medication reminders, virtual therapists, and real ones who talk to users via text. I tried four mental health apps: Calm, Youper, Sanvello, and Minddoc. Here’s my report of what these apps offer and how useful I found them to be.
Calm is a relaxation/meditation app that I found particularly useful for its breathing exercises. Its homepage displays beautiful sceneries with calming sounds that are nice to play in the background while going on about your day. Subscribing gives you access to meditation courses and bedtime stories for those who suffer from insomnia. The app is mostly useful if you wish to incorporate meditation into your routine.
Youper is an AI therapist that asks you how you’re feeling every time you open the app and then asks you to link factors like work, family, sleep, etc. to your mood. Over time, you will be able to see which factors seem to be related to a certain mood. Youper also gives you insight based on actual psychology and pushes you to set goals for yourself. Pros: Talking to a virtual person can be surprisingly easier. Cons: While the app offers many options, very few of them are available for free. The takeaway: This app is practically useless without a membership.
Sanvello and Minddoc
Sanvello and Minddoc are mood trackers that ask you a few questions every day. After two weeks of tracking, Minddoc offers insights to help you understand how and why you’re feeling that way, suggesting symptoms you may have and possibly encourage you to talk to a professional, including the resources to do so. Sanvello gives you more options: It guides you through analyzing your thoughts and identifying patterns, helps you set simple goals and put together a “board of hope’“ of inspiring thoughts, and keeps track of your health and habits. Among these apps, Sanvello was the one that let me do the most without subscribing.
A necessary disclaimer: Downloading an app on your phone can’t be equivalent to professional help.
Most of them are not backed up by evidence, some were even found to be harmful, and their reviews can’t be proof of efficiency. However, this does not mean that these apps are completely useless. A team of researchers from California argued that a mental health technology revolution was necessary, now more than ever.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, surveys have shown an increase in anxiety and depression symptoms in North America and Europe. Previous (and smaller) pandemics like Ebola and SARS have shown that, while a great amount of the population is resilient, psychological support is still needed even when the outbreak is controlled.
COVID-19 comes with taking sanitary measures, quarantine, and the cancellation of events on a scale larger than any pandemic our world has seen. According to the same research team, isolation decreased physical activity, and rumination can hurt those with pre-existing mental health conditions while creating space for new ones. Social distancing can also affect access to healthcare, which is already not equal for every demographic.
With all of this in mind, it makes sense why more research regarding mental health technology is needed. When evidence-based and used responsibly, these apps could be a promising tool to provide relief and support for those who can’t access traditional mental healthcare.