Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Apps Can Help Play a Role in Your Mental Health

With a little research and patience, you can find a system that works for you.

The new year means a new start for all of us and for many people, it’s a chance to focus on improving their mental health. As part of that plan, thousands of people will go to the app store on their phones and download programs designed to help put themselves in a better frame of mind.

While the benefit of these digital products vary, it can be worthwhile to give some programs a chance. But it’s important to note that like mental health in general, the success or failure of these apps is highly personal to your wants and needs. It’s also important to recognize that apps should not be used as an alternative to speaking to a medical professional when necessary. That’s especially the case for patients who routinely seek mental health care.

As for the best way to find an app, that’s also highly personal based on what you’re trying to accomplish, and how you generally interact with technology. There are, however, recommendations worth sharing before diving into a sea of thousands of possible programs.

For example, I’d favor an app that is endorsed by a professional like your primary care physician, or at least recommended by experts who work in clinical settings. Positive peer reviews, especially from professional organizations are a good sign that the app is well thought out and effective. Check if there have been any independent studies to show evidence of the effectiveness of the app.

It’s also helpful to ask your mental health provider which app they endorse. Sometimes doctors can even prescribe apps known as “digital therapeutics” as part of care. Mental health providers understand how difficult it can be to get an appointment with them, and they also appreciate the out-of-pocket costs that come with those services, so leaning on an app to augment treatment in between appointments has become a popular method in some cases.

I’d also point out that apps vary widely in their design, and some are more engaging to use. Also, apps have different focuses. Some apps are based on evidence-based psychotherapy programs while others promote wellness by improving self-care. Some wellness-based apps, for instance, will place a heavy focus on meditation, while others will promote yoga or other physical stretching and relaxation methods.

Psychotherapy-based apps will be more interactive through question-and-answer programs or modules that offer education, exercises, and periodic clinical assessments. As you can see, they’re all quite different, and you — or you and your mental health provider — can think about and discuss what’s best for your needs.

When choosing an app, it’s also wise to treat it with the same security concerns as when investing online. Some include subscriptions, and many will collect private information that is deeply personal, since it has to do with your health and well-being. Many can be costly too, so proceed with caution.

Like all health care, your fulfillment in mental health services and the technology that surrounds it includes a lot of personal preference. With a little research and patience, you should find a system that works for you.

More from Manish Sapra M.D.
More from Psychology Today