If you're looking for something to help you manage your anxiety or depression, mental health apps may be just what you're looking for.
Mental health apps are an easy resource that can help you manage your stress, tame anxiety and elevate your mood each day. Though they aren't a replacement for therapy, research shows that the best mental health apps are a great way to improve your well-being and keep tabs on your progress.
There's a lot to love about mental health apps: the variety, the affordability and the features. They also bring mental health resources to people who otherwise couldn't get help due to finances, disabilities or location. But they're not a one-size-fits-all. Not all mental health apps are backed by research or clinical insights. With between 10,000 and 20,000 wellness apps out there, it can be difficult to find the best option.
That's why we did the research for you. Here are the seven best mental health apps you can start using today to elevate your happiness.
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Talkspace takes our top spot for the best therapy mental health app because of its 24/7 access to medical professionals. It's an affordable online therapy option that gives you more than just helpful guides and videos to watch. You have access to a licensed therapist wherever and whenever you need them. Talkspace is a great option for someone who is not comfortable going into an office or would rather have therapy appointments online.
A 2020 study found that messaging a therapist through Talkspace reduced feelings of anxiety and depression. A different study said that using Talkspace's voice, video and text features also reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Note that the researchers of the studies had connections to Talkspace.
Within this mental health app, you have access to video, text and audio chat to communicate with your therapist. However, users note there is a 5-minute cap on audio messages.
Talkspace is significantly more expensive than other mental health apps on the list. However, if you're looking for an app that allows you to talk to a therapist directly, it may be worth the price.
Price: Plans start at $65/week.
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Calm is one of the most well-known mental health apps in the wellness space, with over 100 million downloads. We consider Calm one of the best meditation apps because of its comprehensive offerings, including breathing techniques and calming exercises.
The Calm app is pretty easy to navigate and organized well. When you open the app, you are prompted to take a few deep breaths. Then you select what your main goals are so that your recommendations are tailored to your needs. You also can track statistics within the app, such as how long you have been using the app or how many sessions you've completed.
The free version of Calm is limited, but there is a 7-day trial that helps you decide if it's right for you. After the trial, you have to pay the premium to access the 100 guided meditations, sleep library and masterclasses, which is $14.99/month or $69.99/year. If you are ready to commit to Calm, it's good to go with the full-year option since it comes out to just under $6/month instead of the full $15. Or you can always stay with the limited free version.
Price: $14.99/month or $69.99/year
Calm best features:
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The Moodfit app has a lot to offer, and you can choose how to use this best mental health app. You can track sleep, nutrition, exercise and more during your wellness journey. Moodfit uses tools and sessions that help you assess your feelings, recognize negative thinking and change it.
The Moodfit app has pretty standard navigation. The "notices" tab at the bottom is what I would consider the educational section. There is a lot of good information available, like how your thoughts influence your behavior and feelings, but you will have to take the time to actually read it. Other mental health apps have a more interactive experience with imagery, videos and readouts.
Where I think where Moodfit really shines is its analytics. With the easy-to-interpret charts, you can spot patterns in your mood and your activities. You also can track your mood down to the hour -- analytic views available are monthly, weekly, daily and hourly. Many apps do have analytics, but Moodfit puts a lot of intention behind helping you find patterns in your behavior and moods.
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Sanvello is the best mental health app for stress relief thanks to its full meditation library, guided journeys, health tracking and cognitive behavioral therapy tools. I was pleasantly surprised when using Sanvello. For me, it was a lesser-known option on the list, and it did not disappoint. You can choose what goals you want to target -- reduce anxiety, feel happier, build confidence, etc., and you can select as many goals as you want.
One of my favorite parts of the Sanvello app was how connected it felt when using it. Like other mental health apps, there is an education section. What's different is how it is presented. Sanvello uses text, videos and audio for a multimedia experience that is much easier to follow and digest. This comes down to preference, as some people prefer to read at their cadence.
The basic version of Sanvello is free. However, there are additional features that the app offers -- like coaching and guided journeys -- that are not available on the free version. There is a premium option of $8.99/month and a premium plus coaching option for $50/month which offers a coach with live connection capabilities.
Price: $8.99/month or $50/month
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Happify is a free mental health app that focuses entirely on your mood and helps relieve anxiety. Developed by mental health professionals, Happify's strategies are derived from cognitive behavioral therapy that helps you learn how to recognize and reorient negative thinking.
Happify had the most thorough questionnaire when signing up. I was asked about relationships, employment and medical conditions to help personalize the service. As the name suggests, Happify focuses on positivity and tries to make your journey fun with engaging games. With the relaxation and mindfulness techniques Happify offers, you can boost your mood and relieve anxiety.
The app has a different navigation setup than other apps. Instead of having the navigation bar at the bottom, there's a three-bar dropdown you have to tap to bring up the menu at the top left, making it just a little more difficult to find things.
Price: $14.99/month or $139.99/year. You also can purchase "lifetime access" for $499.99.
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MindShift is a free mental health app specifically designed to target anxiety. Categories within the app are broken down into general worry, social anxiety, perfectionism, panic and phobias. This allows the user to personalize which type of anxiety they want to work through.
As the name suggests, MindShift targets your mindset, meaning that it helps you identify what is making you anxious and helps you redirect your thinking to positivity. When you open the app, you're prompted to rate your daily anxiety score to track over time. The app is pretty easy to use and easier to navigate than other options simply because there is less available. One tool that stood out was the "thought journal" that helps you work through what you're worried about and how to overcome negative thoughts. "Coping cards" are also available to help you ease anxiety in the moment.
MindShift is much more interactive than other apps, as it relies on you to add anxiety scores and type responses to get the best experience. Other apps are mainly reading-based. If you want the best out of MindShift, you need to interact with the app.
Mindshift best features:
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The unique experiences of people of color are often excluded from traditional mental health resources. The wellness app industry is traditionally not inclusive and mainly focuses on experiences that white people encounter. Only one in three Black Americans get the mental health care they need. That's why Shine is the pick for the best mental health app for people of color.
It's specially designed to target the needs and struggles of people of color, making mental health resources more accessible and inclusive. Shine offers meditations, self-care courses led by experts and monthly virtual workshops. You are also prompted to add a wellness check-in each day and are greeted with motivational messages.
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The apps included on the best mental health app list have the best features supported by research. When selecting our picks, we examined each app's user experience, features and pricing. We also read through user reviews to tease out pain points and what people value in mental health apps.
Who doesn't want therapy from the comfort of home? Mental health apps are tools you can use to improve your well-being. While not all offer online therapy, they're simple to use and make managing your mental health easy. Each app will vary in what it targets. For example, Calm specializes in relaxation and breathing. Moodfit focuses on tracking your mood and finding patterns.
Mental health apps are not intended to diagnose conditions or be a replacement for therapy. Instead, they are a great tool to use for continued support daily. They offer encouragement, education and helpful activities you can use to improve several areas of your mental health.
Read more: Tips to Find the Right Therapist For You
Experts are split on the effectiveness of mental health apps. Some studies have not found "convincing evidence" that apps greatly improve outcomes related to disorders like anxiety, depression or drinking. However, other research has suggested that mental health apps have potential in managing and improving symptoms of select disorders.
The research on the effectiveness of long-term treatment with apps is young. Most experts agree that they are a great tool to support your mental health, especially when you use them in addition to other treatment options. They are not intended to diagnose conditions and should be viewed primarily as a complement to traditional treatment options.
Mental health apps bring resources to those who otherwise may not have had access to them, whether because of financial standing or regional location. And while they are not a true replacement for therapy, mental health apps are a great way to self-regulate and be mindful of how you're feeling.
Mental health apps are great tools that supplement your experience. However, it's unlikely they would ever replace traditional therapy, even the options that offer virtual therapy. Mental health apps have limitations in crises, and there are questions about effectiveness when used alone. Mental health apps aren't the best option for everyone. While the apps are typically user-friendly, some people still prefer to meet in person and have their therapists' undivided attention. It's all a matter of preference.
Read more: What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
With mental health apps, you can't assume that everything is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Mental health apps fall in a gray area. HIPAA only protects information collected by "covered entities," including healthcare providers and insurance companies. Many of the best mental health apps on the market operate without connection to covered entities, meaning your information isn't completely private.
HIPAA applies to conversations with your therapist on an app. So you don't need to worry about what you disclose in those sessions. However, the apps' additional features -- guided meditations, CBT exercises and mood logs -- are not always kept confidential. Neither is the fact that you use a mental health app. The data you give the apps outside of therapy sessions can be sold for targeted advertising. And it's not just Facebook; your information can be shared with public health and academics for research.
For many people, apps are an important tool to guide their wellness journey. While they are not a replacement for therapy, mental health apps are a great way to check in on yourself. My advice is that mental health apps are what you put into them. Many of the free ones offer helpful, educational content. But you need to take the time to read it. Others allow you to work through stressors with open-ended answer boxes. But you have to interact with the app to truly benefit from it.
A wellness app won't give the client's relationship with a counselor that traditional talk therapy offers. And for some, that's not something they are willing to give up. But if therapy is currently out of your reach, especially due to cost, then mental health apps may be a good option. You won't get the highly personalized experience you could get with another person, but you can still learn healthy habits and skills.