Woman using a mobile app

An App-y Mindset

The rise of mental health apps makes it easier than ever to try digital therapy.

December 2016

Turning to your phone right before bed and first thing in the morning is hardly healthy, according to most experts. Evidence suggests that the blue light emitted by the screen interrupts both quality and quantity of sleep. Yet despite these demerits, your phone offers a surprising wealth of positive health resources in the form of mental health apps. In fact, for a multitude of problems — from PTSD to anxiety, addiction and schizophrenia — the World Health Organization espouses the concept of self-care “through the use of electronic and mobile health technologies” [Mental Health Action Plan, 2013-2020].

Some apps, such as PTSD Coach, a free smartphone app released in 2011, are as official as it gets. Created by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD along with the U.S. Department of Defense, the app lets anyone who has experienced trauma use it to track symptoms and set up a support network. In a small 2014 study, more than 80% of veterans using the app reported it had helped them manage their symptoms.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has reviewed a number of apps for different conditions. Each of the apps below has been reviewed by the ADAA and a number of other popular health sources as a good mobile resource. Needless to say, if you feel your condition is not sufficiently managed by an app, it’s time to seek professional (human) assistance.

MoodKit

Its four tools — MoodKit Activities, Thought Checker, Mood Tracker and Journal — help people with depression, anxiety and anger-management issues identify and change negative thoughts, plus engage in mood improvement activities. Drawing on techniques of cognitive behavioral therapy, it’s rated well for use alone or as a supplement to professional treatment.

WorryWatch

You might be more than a worrywart: For sufferers of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), chronic worry and other kinds of anxiety, this app—created by a longtime sufferer of GAD—helps to reset anxiety. A log lets you record what’s bothering you; you can track whether the outcome was as bad as your worry and then analyze the trends in your anxiety to see where you can make changes.

Breathe2Relax

Meant to help you decrease your body’s “fight or flight” stress response, this app provides a diaphragmatic breathing exercise that you can personalize for your own pace. It includes a video demo, reading materials and charts to help map your personal progress.

Sleep Cycle

Here’s a healthy use for your phone at bedtime. Since maintaining a proper sleep schedule is important for keeping depression symptoms at bay, this app analyzes your sleep to see if you’re in deep or light phases of slumber. It uses the information to wake you up when you will be least prone to feeling tired. Set your alarm as usual and it wakes you up at the optimal time, within the 30 minutes leading up to your alarm. It works via motion detection and the microphone in your phone.