The importance of taking care of your mental health can’t be stressed enough, especially during trying times like a global pandemic. The good news is that technology has opened new avenues in mental health support that can easily be accessed by everyone. We’ve done some research and selected seven of the best mental health apps for Android with scientific backing that you can use for free.
As the use of mental health apps grows, it’s important to be aware that all apps are not created equal. Just because there are a lot of options, it doesn’t mean they all work. As it happens, a select minority of apps are based on scientific evidence and have shown to have mental health benefits, whereas a vast majority are just downright ineffective. Also, many of these apps hide some of their more advanced features behind a paywall. This list below contains only those that offer robust options even in free mode.
Note: apps are a tool that aids mental health and can’t replace actual medical treatment or advice.
Price: Free / $14.95
Happify is an app that addresses various mental ailments, including stress, anxiety, PTSD, and mood disorders.
Happify was part of a controlled randomized trial whose results were published in the International Journal of Wellbeing. The study found that participants who used the app at the recommended level reported fewer depressive and anxiety symptoms as well as greater resilience after eight weeks.
In addition, PsyberGuide, a group of mental health experts that operates out of the University of California, Irvine, and Northwestern University, has also endorsed the app.
The app works by suggesting a number of activities based upon a series of initial assessment questionnaires. A number of free tracks are available to follow in Happify. Each includes suggested activities, such as chasing the “The Power of the Positive.” This is a simple game that aims to help users improve their capacity to experience positive moods.
The app provides users with a database of videos, articles and meditations. It also boasts an Instagram-inspired social component where users can interact with each other.
Another plus point for Happify is that it offers accessibility features for those with visual or hearing impairments via the Accessibility features. For those who desire more advanced features such as insights into your progress and access to the complete catalog of resources, you will need to switch to the paid version.
Price: Free / $12.99
Calm is one of the more popular mediation apps, a close competitor of Headspace. We haven’t included the latter in our list because Calm offers a greater variety of options through its free tier.
A study conducted by researchers from the Arizona State University, University of Redlands, and Behavior Research and Analytics Center, which included a total of 88 participants – all college students, found that Calm is an effective modality to deliver mindfulness meditation in order to reduce stress and improve mindfulness and self-compassion in stressed-out college students.
The app creates a personalized action plan for you based on insights into your current moods and goals for self-improvement.
Calm first strives to create a relaxing atmosphere so you can unwind your mind through audio and visual cues. Regarding meditation, the app offers guided sessions as well as unguided meditations with new programs constantly being developed.
In addition, Calm includes access to breathing exercises as well as sleep stories (premium only). The app is also suitable for kids through the Calm Kids tab. The introductory seven-day program plus some additional content is free to access.
Price: Free / $4.99
MoodMission is an app created to help people track their moods in order to counter feelings of anxiety or depression.
MoodMission was part of a randomized controlled trial conducted by the Society of Clinical Psychology in 2019, which included two other apps. The results showed that participants who used one of the apps experienced increases in mental well-being. Users of MoodMission also reported a decrease in depression symptomatology.
MoodMission users have to complete a series of surveys that assess how they are feeling. Once this step is out of the way, the app will start to delve deeper into your state of mind via additional sets of questions. The more users interact with the app, the better it gets at suggesting activities tailored to specific needs.
MoodMission will recommend missions or tasks that feature an attached explanation of why they may be helpful. An example of that is taking a three-minute walk around the block. Upon completing the task, MoodMission will return will follow-up questions meant to assess any changes in behavior.
The app benefits from an attractive design, and most of its features are free, with a few paid options available. This includes adding your own missions and unlocking Expeditions to conquer particular fears.
Price: Free / $8.99
Sanvello is an app that relies on the principles of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress. The app benefits from a clean up-to-date interface and packs a fair amount of options for free.
According to the app’s official website, Sanvello was part of a randomized, wait-listed controlled study that included 500 adults. The analysis concluded that using the app can decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression over the course of 30 days. Participants also reported increased self-efficacy.
Like all the apps discussed above, Sanvello has users fill out a questionnaire when they first log into the app to assess their current mental states. Users are then invited to select goals from a list of eight options including “be happier” and “find hope.” Moreover, they are encouraged to set reminders to allow the app to pop in and check on them throughout the day.
Notable features include a library of articles, videos, and guided meditations as well as mood[ and goal-tracking tools. In addition, Sanvello boasts a couple of social elements. For example, users can access a community message where they can connect with fellow anxiety and depression sufferers. A journaling option is also available for those who wish to keep track of their emotions in writing.
Extra features like being able to select a soothing background and the ability to create a music playlist via Spotify are nice to have as well.
Sanvello’s Premium tier unlocks the full library of resources as well as a therapy service. Sessions are provided by licensed counselors or therapists who will connect with the patient via the app’s video conferencing tool. This service is currently only available in the U.S.
5. Calm Harm
Calm Harm is an app targeted at people who are trying to manage urges to self-harm. It’s built around the principles of dialectic behavior therapy (DBT) which has been found to provide relief for people suffering from mood disorders.
The NSH recommends this app as a valid tool to aid with the suppression of self-harming thoughts.
The app takes advantage of a clean interface and is not riddled with unnecessary features or intrusions. Users are shadowed throughout their journey with the app by a series of colorful mascots that can be customized. To combat the urge to do self-harm, the app serves up a list of exercisees which are grouped under several categories including Comfort, Distract, Release, and more.
To get started, simply tap on one of the categories and select an exercise from the list that appears. Each of the exercises is timed and can either take five or 15 minutes. Each successfully completed activity is logged in the app to track progress. Other noteworthy features include keeping a journal and the option to add your own calming activities to the app.
Price: Free / $5.99
eQuoo is a really unique app in the sea of mental health apps. It’s structured like a fun game, but its quests and missions are designed to teach users important psychological concepts such as emotional bids, generalization, and reciprocity through storytelling and gamification.
eQuoo was part of a five-week, three-arm randomized controlled trial with 358 participants. The results revealed that using the app has the potential to significantly raise mental well-being and lower anxiety.
The app’s content is based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and stars Dr. Joy, your host who will walk you through all the quests eQuoo has to offer. Using the app is super simple: just follow the questions and answer the questions to level up and unlock new teaching moments.
If you select the wrong answer, don’t worry, as there’s no failing in eQuoo. Instead, the app does its best to teach you how to understand others better and respond to their needs appropriately.
eQuoo also includes a database of articles so users can better understand the concepts they have learned. Some in-app purchases are available. For example, the Starter Pack unlocks additional content.
Woebot adds a new spin to regular therapy sessions. Powered by an AI that relies on the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Woebot provides users with emotional support and advice through chat 24/7.
Scientists at the Stanford School of Medicine included Woebot in a randomized controlled trial in 2017. The study concluded that conversational agents are a feasible, engaging, and effective way to deliver CBT. What’s more, participants in the Woebot group managed to significantly reduce their symptoms of depression over the experimental period.
Boasting a minimalist, intuitive interface, Woebot gets right to the chase as soon as you open the app. The therapy bot immediately starts asking questions to which you can answer either by typing your response or simply choosing one of the options available.
The app tracks your mood over a period of eight weeks and will check in with you every day (at a time that is convenient for you). Woebot periodically invites you to join in to chat while also gently nudging you toward creating healthy habits like keeping a gratitude journal.
While daily sessions don’t take very long to complete, you can message Woebot anytime, and it will respond no matter the hour or day or night.
Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for optimal mental health, so while you’re here, why don’t you also check out our list of the best sleep-tracker apps to make sure you improve your sleeping cycle, too.