Don't let social distancing turn into outright isolation. These apps let strangers lend a friendly ear, and they're free.
The premise is intriguing. We all need to talk sometimes, but you might not always be comfortable opening up to a friend or loved one about certain topics. And professional therapy might not be an option right now. So why not chat with a stranger, who can lend a sympathetic ear and help you talk things through? This is no substitute for emergency help, of course. But if you're looking for something more casual, there are more options than you might think.
HearMe is an app for iOS and Android that lets you talk one-on-one with a stranger. You're not really talking -- this is a texting experience, which might actually make it a bit easier to open up to a stranger. At least that was my experience. I tried out HearMe this week and decided to use it to talk through a personal issue that has been weighing on me. Getting started with the app, which you can install on your iPhone or Android device, is easy, and you don't need to provide any personal information, so there's very little for the developers to mine, if your privacy is important to you. You can specify your listener preferences for gender (including nonbinary) and age range and can say up front what your topic is or simply start chatting.
Once in a chat, the app behaves like any texting app, with the exception that you're thrust into a potentially weird situation in which you're there to chat with a stranger for no reason other than to chat. It's not a dating app; it's not an online forum; it's not someone you know. It's just someone who's volunteering their time to talk to you, and you'll never interact with them again. After your session is over, your chats are saved in a "journal," which you can refer back to and reread at any time.
Another option: An app called Lyf has a similar philosophy, but rather than one-to-one interactions, Lyf is an online community -- a virtual support group. The app is free and lets you create your own discussion groups, called Beats, and you can control the membership and privacy settings. You can also browse other Beats and join in, sharing thoughts and commiserating as appropriate. A lot of Beats on the app right now are related to COVID-19, but there are a number of other important conversations in the app, including dealing with autism, depression, illness and body dysmorphia.
For those struggling with COVID-19-related anxiety and depression, or needing questions answered, Lyf has a team of licensed psychologists on the platform 24/7 to answer questions and provide feedback for free, for both iOS and Android.
Like Lyf, Wisdo is built around the idea of communities. With apps for both iOS and Android, there are many groups to choose from, with topics like Pandemic Anxiety, Coping with Loss, Loneliness, Racism and Sexual Assault. You can browse the community and if you chose to join, you can weigh in on where you are emotionally on key touchstones related to the issue, answering questions with a simple "Been There" or "There Now." Once in, it's an open forum in which people share thoughts with one another. But Wisdo has more, including one-on-one private sessions with a Wisdo coach, and moderated discussions with Wisdo mentors. Unlike the other apps, Wisdo isn't free -- users pay a subscription of about $6 per month. But Wisdo thinks that things are particularly tough right now for students -- the class of COVID-19, so to speak -- so if you're a college student in the US or a university student in the UK and sign up using a .edu or .ac.uk email address, Wisdo will give you six months of free access.
In this age of self-quarantine and pervasive illness, having resources like HearMe, Lyf and Wisdo may be a godsend for some. (So is meditation -- right now you can get a year of free meditation sessions from Balance.) Honestly, I think these apps are like a little ray of sunshine in a day that otherwise can sometimes feel pretty dreary.
Originally published earlier this month. Updated with additional apps and services.
CNET's Cheapskate scours the web for great deals on tech products and much more. For the latest deals and updates, follow the Cheapskate on Facebook and Twitter. Find more great buys on the CNET Deals page and check out our CNET Coupons page for the latest promo codes from Best Buy, Walmart, Amazon and more. Questions about the Cheapskate blog? Find the answers on our FAQ page.