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Mental health apps that (actually) help

Jul. 25, 2018
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image by Tyler Spangler

The effectiveness of mental health apps has been debated, and yes, there are useless apps out there. On the flip side, there are useful ones too. I have struggled with mental illness since seventh grade, and I wish I had these apps back in middle school. Now that I have them, keeping myself safe and healthy has become so much easier. There are apps for all kinds of mental illness, from bipolar to OCD to anxiety to depression. 

As someone with bipolar disorder, I have always had trouble keeping track of my mood. I tried to keep a mental list, but that wasn’t working—does it ever? So, I decided I wanted to start tangibly journaling my mood swings. Even though my Pinterest is full of bullet journals and cutesy mood trackers, I knew I wouldn’t remember to fill a journal in every time my mood shifted. Hell, I knew I would get too lazy, or even forget the journal at home. The thought struck my mind: there’s an app for almost everything now. As a matter of fact, there are many apps that help with bipolar, but I find these two the most helpful:

  • Moodnotes ($4.99; available for iOS & Android) This new app has helped me tremendously. Not only is it a mobile diary, but it also acts as a guide of unhealthy thinking traps. Moodnotes teaches users how to look at a situation in a different light; it tunes your rethinking skills. 
  • Daylio (free; available for iOS & Android) Before I discovered Moodnotes, I used this app to track my mood every day. One of my favorite functions is the ability to set reminders that pushed me to track my mood every day. Daylio also gives the option of adding notes every time I wanted to record my mood; like Moodnotes, this app can act as a mobile diary.

Before I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I thought I had severe depression. This came with self-hatred, suicidal thoughts, self-harm urges, etc. One time, when things got really bad, I texted a trusted adult and asked for help. She couldn’t help me directly, but she gave me an app recommendation which ended up saving my life (I’m not being hyperbolic here): 

  • Calm Harm (free; available on iOS & Android) When I say this app saved my life, I am not just being a teenager—I’m serious. Calm Harm does not offer just one way to cope, and that’s what I love about it the most. It’s customizable to a point, and it was my go-to app when I started to have thoughts of hurting myself. It has five activity types: Comfort, Distract, Express Yourself, Release, and Breathe. There’s even a button to randomize it all!

After being called negative by many people I considered friends, I finally wanted to try and be more positive—y’know, happy. This app was very helpful when it came to looking at things in a different light and embracing the select positive emotions that I felt.  

  • Happify (available for iOS & Android) This one is full of activities and lists my skills and strengths. Combatting my negative thinking was difficult, but this app helped me change my old ways. I think that everyone should hear what this app has to say.

Anxiety is something else that certain apps can help with. I have heightened situational anxiety; when I’m about to audition or read a poem in front of a group, I get extremely anxious. I start hyperventilating, my heart starts racing, and my palms get sweaty all at once. This glorious combination of physical reactions is called an anxiety attack. For my personal anxiety attacks, I find that calming images or videos distract me in a healthy way. 

  • Thisissand (free; available for iOS & Android) This app isn’t specifically made for anxiety attacks; it’s not intentionally a mental health aid. However, whenever I start to feel anxious, I click on this app. Thisissand distracts and calms, whether it’s designed to or not.
  • What’s Up? (free; available for iOS & Android) Using CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) techniques, this app is great to get your mind off of whatever’s causing you major anxiety. It includes uplifting quotes, breathing control, affirmations, and more. 

OCD can be difficult to deal with, especially alone. Certain fixations and obsessions racing through your head along with a thousand thoughts per minute—I get it. I found an app that helps me, though:

  • nOCD (free; available for iOS and Android) nOCD comes with a community of people who deal with OCD every day, providing a sense of comfort. This app has exercises, an SOS button for when you need instant help, and it even tracks progress. 

Sometimes, it’s hard to just calm down. It doesn’t help when someone tells me to, especially when I’m smack-dab in the middle of a depressive episode or an anxiety attack. This is built for meditation, breathing, and being mindful of your emotions.

  • Calm (free; available for iOS and Android) This app comes with wonderful features, such as soothing music and videos to watch. Every time I open Calm, it says “take a deep breath”—the app just knows. It has an intro to meditation if you’re new to it (like I was), and even sleep stories.

I understand the feeling of being alone. In the moments when I feel like I have absolutely no one—my therapist’s asleep, I don’t want to bother my friends, my mom will be mad if I wake her up—it’s refreshing to have a person to vent to. Not only are the therapists there to listen, but they’re there to help and give advice—for free

  • Talkspace (free; available for iOS and Android) Talkspace is, well, what the name says. It’s a place where talking is encouraged in times of need. It set me up with a therapist to assess how I’m feeling in the beginning, and then when I forgot to respond, it even sent an email to remind me. This app is basically free quality therapy, and with all the mentally ill, broke teens out there—this app is for you.