According to a recently-published interview with John Torous, MD, MBI, Director of the Digital Psychiatry Division at the Department of Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, there are seven great evidenced-based mental health apps you should consider. Evidence-based means they’ve met the minimum requirements by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or have at least one randomized clinical research study that supports their use and effectiveness.
The recommendation for these evidence-based mental health apps comes in an interview with Dr. Torous found in the Oct. 2019 issue of The Carlat Psychiatry Report (subscribe here), a professional publication targeted toward physicians and psychiatrists. In that interview, Dr. Torous warns:
“Patients are starting to use health apps and they may not be telling you, which can be a problem because most of the apps that are available are poorly designed and lack research support. So you want to consider privacy, evidence, and ease of use. Some of the better-studied apps are coming out as prescription only products that are approved by the FDA as digital therapeutics.”
I couldn’t agree more. Just because an app appears in the App Store or on Google Play doesn’t mean it’s been vetted in any manner whatsoever as being safe and effective for the condition or concern it targets. Most mental health apps are surprisingly not designed in conjunction with a mental health expert — it may be written by some guy who took a single psychology course in college. Because of that lack of expertise, some apps give just plain bad advice, such as suggesting using alcohol to relieve stress or negative feelings.
This is also a good time to remind you of the amazing PsyberGuide, an objective non-profit project that reviews the strength of the scientific research support for mental health apps, and describes the therapeutic interventions that an app provides.
Although only available for Android devices (sorry iPhone users), this suite of 13 individual apps from Northwestern University. New users should begin with the IntelliCare Hub app, which helps manage the various apps available, depending upon each person’s unique mental health needs.
The apps are supposed by NIH-funded research, and are based upon the foundation of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Apps range from Worry Knot (for anxiety), Boost Me (for stress and depression), and My Mantra (find your inspiring words), to Aspire (what is your aspiration?), Daily Feats (recognize your daily achievements) and Thought Challenger (challenge negative thoughts).
Breathe2Relax comes from the National Center for Telehealth & Technology and is an app focused on teaching a person how to successfully do deep breathing exercises. These exercises have been proven in research to help reduce stress. The app describes itself as a “stress management tool which provides detailed information on the effects of stress on the body and instructions and practice exercises to help users learn the stress management skill called diaphragmatic breathing.Breathing exercises have been documented to decrease the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ (stress) response, and help with mood stabilization, anger control, and anxiety management. Breathe2Relax can be used as a stand-alone stress reduction tool, or can be used in tandem with clinical care directed by a healthcare worker.”
Grapple with insomnia or sleep problems? CBT-i Coach is for anyone with insomnia or would like to improve their sleep regimen and habits. “The app will guide you through the process of learning about sleep, developing positive sleep routines, and improving your sleep environment. It provides a structured program that teaches strategies proven to improve sleep and help alleviate symptoms of insomnia.”
CBT-i Coach was a collaborative effort between VA’s National Center for PTSD, Stanford School of Medicine, and the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology. It’s a free app.
Stop, Breathe & Think
You’ve heard of mindfulness. But you want some help and guidance to learn how to do it and incorporate it into your daily routine. There are a multitude of mindfulness apps in the app stores, but this is one of the best ones available. Free for basic use, but you can subscribe ($9.95/month) for additional features.
According to the app developers and supporting research, the app allows you to reduce your anxiety and stress, learn to breathe more mindfully, improve your sleep habits, daily check-ins, and track your moods over time. Check out iMindfulness and Mindfulness Daily for other apps in this space.
DBSA Wellness Tracker
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) publishes this app allows you to track “your emotional, mental, and physical health. The tracker reports give you an at-a-glance summary of your health trends. This can help you better recognize potential health problems and mood triggers in your daily life, as well as help you better partner with your clinician on treatment plans.”
Sorry Android users, only for iOS devices. Free to download.
Download now: iOS App Store
Virtual Hope Box
The Virtual Hope Box app, according to PsyberGuide, “is a multi-media coping skill app designed for individuals struggling with depression (particularly military service members). The four main features of Virtual Hope Box include sections for distraction, inspiration, relaxation, and coping skill options. The distraction techniques include games that require focus, like Sudoku and word puzzles.
“The relaxation techniques offer a variety of guided and self-controlled meditation exercises. The coping techniques offer suggestions for activities that reduce stress. The inspiration section offers brief quotes to improve mood and motivation.
“The app can be used in collaboration with a mental health provider through the ‘coping cards’ feature, which can be programmed to address specific problem areas. The relaxation tools can also be used with a clinical professional or other meditation partner, if desired.”
Free to download, the app was created by the National Center for Telehealth & Technology.
Need a medication reminder app? Medisafe is one of the better and easier ones to use.
This app, created by Medisafe Inc., offers a clean and simple interface for managing your drug reminders, and allows you to share reports with others, such as your prescription provider or a family member. Also offers integration with GoodRx, a discount drug provider, and has a plethora of reminder options (including when it’s time for refills).
Free to download and use with basic features; advanced features available for $4.99/month subscription.