Overcoming any mental illness is a daunting journey, but mental health apps can help guide users towards meaningful change. Licensed social workers, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists are irreplaceable for many of those suffering from a mental health issue, but unfortunately, that cavalcade of healthcare professionals aren’t available or accessible to everyone.
Even after overcoming social stigma, seeking in-person treatment requires a surprising amount of time just finding the right professional to see, not to mention some scheduling flexibility and a good deal of money. In-person therapy often costs hundreds of dollars per session, and finding the right time slot to fit your already hectic life is a non-starter for some. That’s where the best mental health apps slide into your pocket.
Although no app is a direct replacement for genuine in-person treatment, there are a bevy of instant, cost-effective, and even free, options that can, in some cases, be used to great effect. Of course all mental health apps promise improvement, but their claims aren’t always peer-reviewed, even if they do interpolate proven clinical methods like Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (CBT), Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), meditation, mindfulness, and deep-breathing. Still, the best mental health apps are an invaluable resource, because they eliminate barriers to treatment like time, money, and even social stigma.
While about one in five American adults experience a mental illness in a given year, nearly 60 percent of them don’t seek professional mental health services. It doesn’t have to be this way. The best mental health apps can help bridge that gap between help and professional help. While anyone suffering is advised to seek licensed treatment, any number of these mental health apps can at least get people acquainted with a slice of what mental health help looks and feels like, and indoctrinate them into the overall methodology behind treatment.
Meditation & Mindfulness Apps
Headspace is one of the best mental health apps for anyone curious about meditation, but perhaps a bit apprehensive on how to get into it. With an astonishingly simple user interface featuring sessions lead by former monk and mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe, the app will give you a gentle push into the well of mental health benefits meditation can offer.
You can try out the first ten sessions for free to build a foundation, and if you’re game, sign up for a subscription to access hundreds of guided meditations on workable subjects like sleep, anxiety, productivity, and many more. Cost to unlock all features: $12.99/month (iOS, Android)
Skeptical about how meditation can help your mental health? 10% Happier is here to convince you through practice. It’s one of the best apps for anxiety, because of the range of topics it can help you cope with, from politics to falling asleep.
Developed by television anchor Dan Harris and meditation teacher Joseph Goldstein, 10% Happier is founded upon Harris’s book by the same name, which he wrote after an on-air panic attack in 2004 lead him to discover meditation as a tool to mitigate his emotions. Key features include personal coaching from real meditation experts to answer any and all questions you may have, plus a catalog of content that’s updated weekly to keep your practice fresh and refined. Cost to unlock all features: $11.99/month (iOS, Android)
There aren’t many mental health apps as comprehensive as Breethe. Acting as a personal mindfulness coach of sorts, Breethe has a massive variety of content. Having trouble sleeping? Try any of its music playlists, nature sounds, guided meditations, bedtime readings, and even hypnotherapy sessions. Trouble finding a moment to relax and recharge? Access Breethe’s inspirational talks from mindfulness coaches and personal growth experts, pull up a breathing exercise, or play a selection of soothing music. Whatever your mental health needs may be, there’s a strong chance Breethe and its array of mindfulness content can help. Cost to unlock all features: $12.50/month (iOS, Android)
Stop, Breathe & Think
Featuring more than 40 free activities of differing lengths, Stop, Breathe & Think isn’t a cookie-cutter meditation and mindfulness app. It stands out from a crowded pack of mental health apps by integrating customization tools into your experience. Whenever you open Stop, Breathe & Think, the app has you take a short survey, asking you to check-in on yourself before starting. Based on your current state of mind and mood, it’ll analyze your answers and then offer up custom meditations specially designed for your mental health needs in the moment. Cost to unlock all features: $9.99/month (iOS, Android)
As seen on the hit show Shark Tank, Simple Habit bills itself as the go-to meditation app for the busiest of us. With Simple Habit, no one is truly too busy to meditate. The app only asks for five minutes of your time each day, offering up specialized meditations for specific symptoms (depression, anxiety, stress) and life situations (waking-up, commuting, tough days at work). Its prized feature may be its On-The-Go mode, which simply asks “What are you doing?” and provides prompts like “sleep,” “morning,” “taking a break” or “SOS” before ushering you to the right meditation for that moment. That full-tilt customization and simple interface makes Simple Habit one of the best mental health apps available. Cost to unlock all features: $11.99/month (iOS, Android)
Created by famed neuroscientist, author, philosopher and star podcaster Sam Harris, the Waking Up meditation app zigs where other meditation apps zag. Whereas many mental health apps merely help you find relief in the moment, Waking Up’s more holistic approach focuses on much longer-term gains and personal revelations, urging its users to make “fundamental discoveries in the laboratory of your own mind.”
There are daily guided meditations to train yourself, plus short podcast-like talks from Harris himself on mindfulness, science, and philosophy. Again, this meditation app takes a different track from its competitors, so Harris has a money-back guarantee: if you complete the 50-day course in less than 90 days and didn’t find it helpful, he’ll refund your money. Cost to unlock all features: $11.99/month (iOS, Android)
Although Insight Timer has paid subscription features, there are thousands and thousands of pieces of free content already embedded within, making this mental health app one of the best for anyone looking for help, but perhaps unable to foot a monthly subscription fee. Take advantage of its free guided and timed meditations, calming music tracks, and discussion groups. Cost to unlock all features: $9.99/month (iOS, Android)
Do you get the “Sunday Scaries”? Does anxiety keep you up at night? Fret no longer. Guided meditations in Calm come in increments of three, five, 10, 15, 20 or 25 minutes to match your busy schedule, but many other meditation apps offer timed features. What’s really special about Calm are its Sleep Stories—a catalog of over 100 bedtime stories, read by talented entertainers like Matthew McConaughey and Leona Lewis, to lull you into a deep slumber. Also notable is its Daily Calm feature, which are new 10-minute meditations released daily to help you ease into the day or fall asleep soundly. Cost to unlock all features: $12.99/month (iOS, Android)
Depression & Anxiety Apps
Out of all the best anxiety apps, Talkspace is the only one that sets its users up with person-to-person professional help. A therapeutic chat app used by over 1 million people, anyone over 13 years old can sign-in, set preferences for therapy, and instantly get connected to thousands of available licensed therapists in your state.
While most therapists charge hundreds of dollars per in-person session, Talkspace provides unlimited text, audio, picture, or video messaging with a therapist, who’ll respond at least once a day, five days a week. As far as depression apps or anxiety apps go, only Talkspace can get you hooked up with a licensed therapist, and given how difficult it can be to find someone to sit down with, the service is truly invaluable for anyone who needs professional help but can’t afford the prohibitive cost or rigid in-person scheduling. Cost to unlock all features: $49/week (iOS, Android)
While 7 Cups doesn’t connect you with a licensed therapist on-demand, it still does provide an outlet for your thoughts and feelings. As a chat app, you can get connected anonymously to a 1-on-1 “listener” who’ll provide 24/7 confidential support for whatever you may be experiencing at the time. All listeners are trained in “active listening,” and are quite helpful and empathetic towards your mental and emotional issues. By no means is 7 Cups a replacement for a conversation with a licensed therapist, but if you’re feeling down-and-out with nobody else to turn to, 7 Cups’ instant connection with a listener can help provide cost-effective, immediate, on-the-go relief when you don’t have an in-person therapist appointment on the calendar. Cost to unlock all features: $12.99/month (iOS, Android)
CBT Thought Diary
A technique called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most common treatments healthcare professionals use in addressing depression and anxiety in patients. As its name suggests, CBT Thought Diary takes you on the CBT journey, which asks you to evaluate and analyze your emotions in a journal format. You can document your negative feelings, then use the app’s prompts to find flaws in your thinking, reevaluate your most critical thoughts, and clearly sort out the unhelpful and potentially harmful cognitive distortions. Whether you use CBT Thought Diary as a depression app or an anxiety app (or both!) is totally based on your individual needs and experiences, making it one of the best mental health apps for its deployment of clinically proven CBT techniques. Cost to unlock all features: Free (iOS, Android)
MindShift CBT is another anxiety and depression app for anyone looking to engage with CBT. This one was developed by the non-profit charity Anxiety Disorders Association of British Columbia, and has a cool, calming user interface with CBT-based tools. There’s a Thought Journal for inputting negative thoughts and identifying problems, and then challenging them to ease anxiety. Another feature called Belief Experiments puts your anxieties underneath the proverbial microscope to test how well those worries face up to reality. But perhaps the most helpful feature are its Coping Cards, which help shake-up your mindset and re-align it using powerful coping statements that’ll ground you in all the benefits CBT can offer. Cost to unlock all features: Free (iOS, Android)
Developed by clinical psychologists, MoodKit deploys cognitive therapy techniques to improve your mood, and hopefully, your overall well-being. Although its user interface isn’t the cleanest compared to other anxiety and depression app alternatives, its bevy of resources makes it worth the download. Divided into four main sections called Activities, Thought Tracker, Mood Tracker, and MoodKit Journal, the app is organized and gets you to the right resources quickly. The Activities section, however, may be the most helpful, instantly providing over 150 mood-lifting activities for things like productivity, physical health, and social well-being. Cost to unlock all features: $4.99 (iOS)
Out of all the mental health apps employing CBT as a foundation, Moodnotes may be the most streamlined and analytical of them all. Moodnotes encourages you to track your mood over time, providing simple journal prompts and analytics to show what types of negative thoughts are ailing you, and what easily avoidable cognitive “traps” you’re falling into. Over time, as you enter in more mood data, it’ll show your “Top 5 Thinking Traps”—a bit of invaluable information that’ll increase your self-awareness and hopefully improve your mental health in the long-run. As one of the best anxiety apps for anxiety, it’s useful in that it not only helps alleviate symptoms, but also educates its users on how to walk the middle path between extreme motions. Cost to unlock all features: $4.99 (iOS)
Not only does What’s Up use CBT, but it also incorporates Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), which dovetails nicely with what CBT already does. While CBT challenges negative thoughts and feelings to present a more even-keel reality, ACT recognizes that even with those challenges, the same troublesome thoughts and feelings can still persist, so trying to change them may be counter-productive. Instead, ACT asks you to mindfully accept them and take committed action to work to tamper them down. Using trackers, journals, forums, games, and scales, What’s Up helps users identify negative thinking patterns and work to overcome them. What’s Up is one of the most complete and customizable experiences out there, making it one of the best apps for anxiety. Cost to unlock all features: Free (Android)
If you’re a gamer suffering from depression, anxiety, or any other mental or emotional affliction, Happify may be the best mental health app for you. Sporting an array of CBT-based free games and activities (many more are available with a premium subscription), you can swipe around and de-stress simply by playing around and embracing the power of gamification.
You can mark your progress on a personalized happiness tracker, and if that’s not enough, there are guided meditation and relaxation features to ground you when you grow tired of gaming for one day. Some users have complained that the “challenges” its tracker imposes on you to complete different games and activities in a certain time period is stressful in and of itself, but if you’re dedicated to improving yourself through one of the top anxiety apps, consistency is key. Cost to unlock all features: $14.99/month (iOS, Android)
Stress Management Apps
Many of the best mental health apps include a relaxing breathing exercise as a perk, but Breathe2Relax is exactly what it sounds like: you breathe, and then you relax. Users learn a stress-management skill called diaphragmatic breathing, which uses timed, deep breathes to control emotions, stabilize mood, and decrease anxiety levels. If meditation is a bridge too far and CBT is too demanding for you, then Breathe2Relax and its extraordinarily simple function—remember, it’s just deep breathing—may be the right mental health app for you. Cost to unlock all features: Free (iOS, Android)
Pacifica is a bit of a catch-all, but it’s certainly one of the more beautifully designed mental health apps available. There’s a check-in feature to monitor your depression, anxiety, and stress levels, and a habit tracker to keep note of all of your health habits, from sleep to caffeine consumption. Pacifica also has over 30 specialized audio exercises like guided meditations, relaxing soundscapes, deep breathing, and more.
Aside from the daily features of the app, there’s also a section called “Guided Paths,” which are sets of CBT audio lessons and mindfulness exercises developed by psychologists. Pacifica is complete, comprehensive, and gives you a short and long-term lens to focus on, making it one of the best mental health apps available to download. Cost to unlock all features: $8.99/month (iOS, Android)
Struggling from addiction is a personal fight that requires many resources to overcome, and Quit That! can be one of them. It’s free, has no ads, and is straightforward: you state what you’re trying to quit, when you’re quitting, input how much that addiction is costing you financially, and watch the days and dollars pile up. As a tracker to show how far you’re coming along in your addiction treatment, Quit That! is a powerful tool — just seeing all of the days passed and money saved is sometimes motivation in and of itself to keep powering along in your quest to quit. Cost to unlock all features:Free (iOS)
Suicide Prevention Apps
A mental health app designed by the Mental Health Association of New York City, MY3 is for those managing suicidal thoughts and urges. Even in your darkest times, this app can help you get through them by connecting you to your support network—or your “3” as the app calls it. You set-up three emergency contacts—perhaps a relative, friend, and doctor—and they become instantly accessible with the tap of an on-screen button. From there, you can build-out a safety plan in the app, listing your own warning signs, coping strategies, helpful distractions and places of comfort.
In the middle of an emotional or psychological breakdown, seeking help is sometimes the last thing on your mind, so for MY3 to provide a pre-made safety toolbox in one app is potentially life-saving for a distressed individual. And of course, if your toolbox is exhausted, or just not what you need in the moment, a direct line to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or 9-1-1 is available to choose in the app too. Cost to unlock all features:Free (iOS, Android)
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, there are resources to help you. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones. You can call directly at 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, you can contact Samaritans at 116 123.