Mental health is a hot topic, and we all want to manage our wellbeing. Many employers are now aware of the importance of supporting their employees with mental health. Which mental health apps can you be sure actually make a difference?
Both businesses and employees are looking for the best mental health apps to support health and wellbeing. There are many mental health applications that offer support and guidance for the mental health journey, but with so many out there, it can be difficult to find the best app for an individual’s needs. The most beneficial are those that are easily accessible, supportive, engaging and safe.
Smriti Joshi, Lead Psychologist at Wysa, is here to help. She holds a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of Delhi and is a Member of the British Psychological Society. Smriti is a practising clinical psychologist specialising in support for depression, anxiety and associated symptoms such as insomnia, anger and loneliness. As a trained Psychologist she has written a guide aimed to help you understand which mental health apps are safe and could prove helpful for you, your employees, and for their mental health and to build good self-care practices.
In this article, Smriti has rounded up the best mental health apps for individuals, whether they’re struggling with mental health symptoms or mental health conditions such as poor sleep, anxiety, depression, stress relief, eating disorders, worry or all-round mental health. There are hundreds of mental health apps out there, offering everything from cognitive behavioural therapy tools to online therapy, breathing exercises to assistance with forming healthy habits.
You’ll find some free apps, some that charge for full access for advanced features, and some that provide in app purchases. You can direct your employees to these, and the guide is designed to be referred to by both HR and employees themselves.
Read on to find more about how to get the mental health care you need through the right mental health app.
📝 All articles on Wysa are reviewed by mental healthcare professionals before publication, who check that the content is thorough and accurate, and references the latest evidence-based research. Learn more.
Mental health app for overall mental health – Wysa
Wysa is an AI powered CBT app that helps users self-manage stressors by blending AI-guided listening with professional expert support. Combining a mood tracker, mindfulness coach, anxiety support, and mood-boosting buddy, it offers all in one, 24/7 support and mental health resources to help you manage your mental health symptoms and stresses. Of course, Wysa is the app I recommend the most, as I have seen how powerful it is for people first-hand.
The mix of cognitive-behavioral techniques (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), meditation, breathing, yoga, motivational interviewing and micro-actions help you build mental resilience skills and develop coping skills.
Evidence based therapy
The best thing about Wysa is that it is rooted in evidence. The app is built and regularly reviewed by leading psychologists and therapists. The result of a year-long co-design effort between a 15-people team of psychologists, designers, developers, and over 500,000 users to understand how AI chat can help us learn skills to build emotional resilience, it is proving to be an effective tool to manage mental health. And the AI technology is constantly learning and refining, based on your answers and needs.
Built with the highest clinical safety standards, one analysis showed that users who engaged regularly with Wysa showed a higher average reduction in depression symptoms compared to those who engage less – 31% compared to 18%.
Wysa has FDA Breakthrough Device Designation for treating symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain for those with chronic musculoskeletal pain. And, it was Winner of The World Economic Forum’s Youth Mental Health Challenge in 2022.
FDA recognises Wysa as a breakthrough device. Thank you @chaitalisinha @rvemp and team @wysabuddy making this vision come true. Step 1 make a product that makes SDOH and stigma irrelevant Step 2: prove it clinically with top researchers Step 3: Change the world https://t.co/sjEkm3S22U
— Jo Aggarwal (@Jo4dev) May 13, 2022
Easy to use mental health app
The friendly and approachable AI penguin is easy to talk to and engaging for users age 13 and over. All of the exercises are super easy to complete, and take no more than ten minutes, meaning it’s convenient to fit into your day. Getting motivational messages from the penguin can be hugely helpful, and the option of tracking mood is a proven encouragement tool from positive psychology.
Digital and human
The home screen takes you straight to the penguin for a chat, which asks you for a quick mood check in. You can also see different psychoeducational packs, which consist of guided tools and techniques aiming to help you build helpful coping skills, covering things such as stress, anxiety, self-esteem, relationships and more. You can journal your thoughts and come back to them later, building on the therapy techniques and developing ways to cope.
There’s also the option of signing up for a mental health coach and schedule live, 30 minute, texting sessions with Wysa’s trained and licensed professionals who can support, guide and listen to you.
Expert led by healthcare professionals
Wysa’s Emotional Well-being Professionals have a Masters degrees in psychology or social work and/or a certification in coaching, and have practised for many years, affiliated with organisation such as the American Psychological Association (APA), British Psychological Society (BPS) and British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). On top of this they undergo extensive training in house to provide ethically and legally safe emotional wellbeing support services online modalities via text and video.
As well as your weekly text based therapy sessions, in between your sessions and activities to complete, you can keep in touch by sending messages to your coach who can help you keep on track with your treatment plan. The AI bot means that you can get immediate support, 24/7, no matter what your worries or stresses are.
You also have the option of sharing your data with your relevant healthcare professional, so they can support you with your mental health treatment plan.
Wysa is for everyone
The Wysa app offers support to people across the mental health spectrum. It has tools to help someone with wellness needs as well as someone with mild to moderate symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. It’s ideal for young people, and there’s also specialised child and adolescent mental health content for 13 to 18 year olds. It’s perfect for people who are short on time, as many of the exercises can be completed in a short time, maybe while on a break at work or school. The tips, techniques and mood tracking are easy for beginners to maintain a consistent level of mental health self care. The cognitive behavioral therapy tools are particularly powerful for anxiety and depression, and breaking negative thinking patterns.
Best in class for privacy
Wysa has won awards for its privacy and far out performs many mental health apps. It doesn’t collect your name or personal details, and never sells data to advertisers – you can remain completely anonymous. It won an award for Best of Privacy Mozilla 2022 who said:
“All in all, Wysa seems to be a breath of fresh air in the mental health app space. It actually takes steps to implement privacy and security by design and default. We absolutely love that here at *Privacy Not Included. Thank you Wysa and please, keep up the good work!”
Wysa offers a completely free app where you can use the AI chatbot function, and access one exercise per module. If you want to upgrade from the free version, the premium version unlocks all exercises and content, and costs $74.99 per year for Apple and iPhone users (with an option to connect to your Apple Health Kit). If you want one to one coaching sessions these cost $29.99 per individual 30-minute session but savings can be made by buying a course, which includes unlimited messages in between sessions.
Wysa for businesses
Wysa guides employees to the right solutions for them by asking the right questions in a supportive and non judgemental way. Positioned somewhere between meditation programmes and clinical resources it is an effective tool of support. Employers can access aggregated data to see what challenges their workforce are facing, there is a bespoke wellbeing calendar which partners have seen 10 times more usage than EAP, and fully cobranded solutions.
Clean Plates – “There was zero judgement. I get that interactions with real life therapists are beneficial for so many reasons, but chatting with a bot eliminates all judgement and shame, and thus removes a major barrier to entry for prioritizing mental health.”
Mental health app for better sleep – Calm
Calm is one of the leading meditation apps out there. Packed with music, audio programs, body scans, mindfulness techniques and movement and nature scenes it helps users stay calm and relaxed which will benefit mental health. Some of our big employer customers offer both Wysa and Calm because they work so well together.
Calm for relaxation and sleep
Calm is designed to help people focus, relax and sleep through meditation or mindfulness. As well as running you through exercises, it has informative courses from mindfulness experts on all sorts of areas of life, such as sleep, relationships, anxiety or parenting, including 7 Days of Calm – a free introductory course on the basics of mindful meditation.
The Daily Calm provides new meditations every day, and Calm Body runs you through stretches and exercises to help ground and soothe your body and manage any physical symptoms caused by poor wellbeing, whether that’s first thing in the morning, exercises for sleep, or just time for an afternoon reset.
But it’s sleep stories where it really shines, and where the efficacy of it has been proved. And for those who like their celebrities, the stories are narrated by famous people such as Harry Styles, Matthew McConaughey, Kelly Rowland and Bob Ross.
Regular meditation and mindfulness is hugely beneficial for our wellbeing and can particularly help reduce stress. The daily meditations are around ten minutes, with others shorter. There are visual breathing cues, so you learn the right techniques and can take the skills with you even when not using the app, to help with ongoing stress relief.
Calm features six types of audio breathing exercises focused on themes such as relaxing, restoration and energy, and you can adjust and customise the speed, length and volume of each. The music category includes lullabies, soundscapes and nature melodies such as rain on a window or waves lapping – great for better sleep.
Meditation for kids
Calm Kids includes meditations, bedtime stories, lullabies, and soundscapes designed for children. Calm’s impact on users has been tested, and it seems to come out particularly well for children and young people. In a 2020 survey, 97% of parents said Calm’s sleep stories helped to improve sleep patterns of their children, and another in 2019 noted a benefit to sleep patterns of students, although not of other health related behaviours.
Monitor your progress
For those who like to monitor their stats you can track days, minutes and sessions where you have been meditating, and it also offers mood tracking, so you can see how your mood is influenced by meditation. It also links to your health app.
Wellbeing not therapy
In my view, Calm is less of a therapy app, and more of a wellbeing app. But that’s not to say it can’t help with many of the symptoms associated with poor mental health. The soothing interface is calming even just on opening. And it is focused and tailored to your needs. On opening the app, you’re asked to take a few deep breaths, followed by a pop up that asks you what brings you to the app so that it can tailor recommendations for you that are centred around your goals.
According to Mozilla, Calm collects users’ personal data for targeted advertising, and shares it with other companies. Which Mozilla Foundation are not overjoyed about, saying: “potentially gathering even more data on you from data brokers and advertising companies, nope, these are not calming privacy practices at all.”
Costs of Calm
The app offers a free version, but you have to put in payment details when signing up. Users of the free version get limited access to daily meditations, mood tracker, some select sleeping stories, breathing exercises, a variety of music tracks and a few guided meditations.
Only users with premium memberships can access Daily Calm and they can also go back to previous sessions in the history section of their profile. A single yearly subscription to Calm costs $69.99 USD, and a lifetime Calm membership is available for $399.99 USD.
Calm for business
Calm is designed to help employees with improving their productivity, engagement at work, and overall wellbeing. As well as being able to purchase Calm Premium, businesses can engage with workshops and branded content. As with Wysa there is a data platform to follow progress and see where employees may need extra support.
Reviewed “Calm treads a fine line between doing so much that it does nothing well, and doing enough that it offers users versatility. Its broad appeal may in part come from the star-studded lineup of narrators—something that most other meditation apps lack.”
User, Google Play Store “Have been using this app daily for a few years. It is the only way I can fall asleep consistently, and I use it to meditate at work when I am stressed. I love it. Has been a game changer for me. I like that they have added some shorter meditations for when i don’t have much time. The content is kept fresh and i have some favorites I go to time after time.”
Mental health app for meditation – Headspace
A meditation app built by a former monk has got to be good! Headspace is a mindfulness and meditation app that teaches the basics of meditation and breathwork through courses and practices. From quick classes at home to deeper courses that form the building blocks of a meditation practice, there is so much in here to soothe and relieve stress. Headspace’s co-founder and co-creator of the app Andy Puddicombe is a former monk who guides you through every step.
Meditation for beginners
With some exercises taking just a few minutes, and others up to 30 minutes, there is always something that fits into a busy schedule. Headspace is good for kids, and offers lessons and exercises for children from toddler age up to the age of 12 – with even a Sesame Street themed package! This is an age group that Wysa is not recommended for, so I recommend parents take a look at this mental health app with kids in mind.
Like Calm, you can set reminders, monitor progress and connect to Apple health or an Android health app to help you identify patterns in your wellbeing and health.
Evidence for meditation
Mindfulness can help with all sorts of life stresses such as anxiety, stress, sleep and challenges. Lots of people find it ideal for stress and everyday anxiety that might come from feeling overwhelmed, daily chores, or relationships. But where’s the evidence?
Headspace claims to be ‘the most science-backed meditation app’ and has lots of research on its website. An ancient practice, meditation has been studied extensively, and is backed up by anecdotal well-being praise and scientific research.
A study from Headspace itself found that using the meditation app for just 10 days reduced stress by 14%. Two studies from Northeastern University found just three weeks of Headspace increased compassion by 23% and reduced aggression by 57%.
Headspace is personalized
Headspace asks you to set goals during sign-up, but the “Today” Hub doesn’t always share activities and suggested meditations that align with your overall goals so you might not be building appropriate healthy habits for your needs. However, the handy stats and option to share ‘Buddies’ does mean it feels personal. Headspace suggests you check in three times – morning to ‘Start Your Day’, part way through for ‘Your Afternoon Lift’ and at bed time in ‘At Night’, although you can check in to any of the 11 main categories at any time.
There is even an option to practice mindfulness with others in a live class in the ‘Group Meditation’ section. Having peer support is a great way to keep on track and encourage you to practice self care.
Headspace’s Move section is more comprehensive than Calm, and includes workouts for different levels of fitness, alongside specific exercises such as running and core. If you’re struggling to switch off before bed, you might want to try the Sleepcast content with bedtime stories and ambient sounds that teaches you breathwork and visualization techniques to calm yourself and set up for a good night’s sleep.
Headspace collects name, e-mail address, password, and app-related usage and you can also connect to your calendar for reminders or share contact info and invite others to the meditation app.
Mozilla described it as essentially ‘not bad’: ‘Headspace isn’t the worst meditation app we reviewed. It does collect a good amount of data though, shares some of that data with third parties for things such as targeted advertising, and seems to be looking to use more of that data to keep you on the app as much as possible’.
Costs of Headspace
There is a free trial available, alongside discounts for students and families. However, there is no free content via the app, although there are some free options on their website, YouTube and even Netflix, and no free version.To access all the features Headspace Plus costs $12.99 per month, including a seven day free trial and $69.99 per year with two weeks free trial. The family plan, open to up to five family members, is $19.99 for a monthly subscription or $99.99 per year.
Headspace for business
Headspace For Work is designed to enable people to look after their wellbeing at work, home, and everywhere in between. It it offers access to hundreds of meditations and exercises for focus, stress, sleep, and movement, and has been downloaded over 70 million times.
Vice “I actually notice the difference on days where I miss a meditation—I’m a lot more coarse (which, if you know me, is saying a lot). Overall, I’d recommend Headspace to anyone who wants to try to improve their wellbeing and de-stress.”
User, Apple Store “You get out what you put in. Headspace has all the tools to help make this a part of you and your life. In the world awash with lifestyle changing apps and quick relaxation apps, headspace is the real deal. Listen, learn, practice and repeat.”
Mental health app for video therapy – BetterHelp
BetterHelp is slightly different to the other mental health apps in our reviews and roundups. It matches people who are experiencing common mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, sleep disorders, anger, trauma and family relationships with licensed therapists trained to address your mental health concerns.
Connecting with a mental health professional
When signing up you are asked to complete a questionnaire about why you’re seeking therapy and the mental health conditions or symptoms you are experiencing. The algorithm will then match you with a therapist based on your needs, within 24 hours.You don’t get to choose your counsellor or therapist, although you can request a change if you don’t feel your therapeutic relationship is working for your mental health condition.
On signing up for a BetterHelp monthly subscription you receive four weeks of unlimited messaging with your counsellor. In addition, you can book a 30-minute live phone, chat or video session once a week.
Common mental health therapies
The BetterHelp therapists offer common mental health therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy and humanistic therapy. You and your therapist get to choose the best one for your needs and mental health issues. Currently, the service is only available for adults, although there is a sister site called Teen Counselling, available for teens 13 to 17.
Groupinars are support groups where you can get help from a peer community. With around a dozen people in each, BetterHelp’s group sessions tend to focus on themes such as relationships, substance abuse, and grief.
One of the main benefits of BetterHelp is that it can reduce some of the barriers of getting mental health support, such as time or cost. By connecting with your licensed therapist, via your phone, tablet or computer, and with so many different communication options, it’s easy to use and fit into your schedule. BetterHelp has therapists for acute needs such as people with bipolar disorder and eating disorders.
Evidence for telehealth
In a 2019 study looking at the effectiveness of BetterHelp for treating depression, an astonishing 37.8% of participants had improved significantly, 62% to some extent, and nearly a fifth (19.8%) were classified as being in remission after three months of therapy from BetterHelp. And telehealth is a growing area, many studies suggest that video therapy can be as effective as in person therapy.
Privacy and anonymity
The app says it keeps user information strictly confidential and compliant with patient data protection laws, including banking grade encryption. And you don’t have to give your name, but can offer a nickname instead. You are asked to give emergency contact information which will be used if your therapist thinks that you or someone else is in crisis or danger – a reassuring sign. If you’re worried about others seeing your messages you can click the ‘shred’ button next to each message you have sent, meaning it will be deleted from your account, a great feature not all mental health apps offer.
They do however gather, aggregate and sell your data, and Mozilla say their privacy policies aren’t up to scratch.
Low cost therapy
The main benefit of BetterHelp is that it’s much more affordable than in person counselling and traditional therapy, although it is not covered by health insurance. However, some have managed to receive financial aid from BetterHelp.
The subscription to BetterHelp is between $60 to $90 a week, billed every four weeks. The price varies depending on your needs and therapist availability. However, there is a seven day free trial, so you can test out online therapy before commiting, and it’s easy to cancel.
Forbes “Overall, I would rate my experience with BetterHelp as excellent. My therapist was skilled, empathetic and competent. She listened to my issues without judgment or criticism.”
User, Google Play Store “. I was hesitant at first — coming from a traditional therapy experience — but my therapist has been awesome and seriously helpful.”
Mental health app for text based therapy – Talkspace
Talkspace is another mobile and web based online therapy providing counselling to help people experiencing symptoms of various mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction or life issues such as relationship challenges or money worries. Founded in 2012, the Talkspace platform centres around ongoing text messages between the user and the therapist, as well as live sessions, depending on the plan chosen.
Text based mental health app
Talkspace is a text based mental health app. You can text your therapist at any time of the day, and they respond when they are able to. Given that you’re speaking with a human person, this is understandable, but when an individual is particularly stressed or feels in crisis, they might want instant soothing and tools, such as those they can get through immediate 24/7 AI based support from Wysa. It could also be a bit fragmented, which might make it hard to really get deep into issues and discussion.
Working with healthcare professionals
Unlike some mental health apps, with Talkspace, you work directly with human therapists. With a range of therapists available, there should be someone with the right expertise and experience for all sorts of mental health challenges. Something unique about Talkspace is that the licensed professionals are able to prescribe medications through the psychiatric services available. They will also take you through progress assessments.
Talkspace says 80 percent of its users found the counselling tool to be just as effective as traditional therapy. However, it’s important to find which type of therapy works best for you. Occasionally responses can feel a bit ‘canned’ rather than bespoke.
Matching with a therapist
On signing up you are asked questions such as what type of therapy you’re looking for, physical health, lifestyle and any preferences. You’re then matched with three therapists, usually within 48 hours. Once chosen, your therapist will contact you and you can schedule weekly or monthly live sessions depending on if you are on the Premium and Ultimate plans. Via the Plus plan, you can send video messages or audio messages like you can text messages.
There is a therapist directory where each profile features a photo, introduction, experience, approach, focus areas, and how many people they have helped through Talkspace. Once you have filled out your questionnaire on sign up, Talkspace will recommend three therapists who are best suited to you. All the therapists are licensed with a minimum of 3000 hours of clinical experience in their area of expertise.
A variety of types of therapy
Talkspace therapists offer cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), humanistic therapy, psychodynamic therapy and behavioral therapy, and will align their expertise to your needs.
Talkspace is Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant, and says all communication is encrypted. One way it differs to BetterHelp is that you can’t delete chat transcripts as they are considered medical records. Whilst this is valuable for entering into treatment with mental health professionals, it could make it seem less confidential for some people.
Low cost therapy
The flexible plans start at $79 per week to include monthly live sessions and unlimited text messaging. Whilst this is much more expensive than other mental health apps, it is cheaper than in person therapy. Some insurance plans cover Talkspace.
It also helps reduce some of the barriers to therapy, such as transport, location, disability and time. However each session is only 30 minutes, which might feel a bit short when discussing deep and potentially stressful issues. Talkspace doesn’t offer a free trial, but you can set up a sales call to explain it. Many people will prefer the convenience of a free trial to test it out.
Talkspace for business
One of the reasons people don’t access therapy is the inconvenience of scheduling appointments. By using apps like Talkspace it becomes possible to do so around work and meetings. The stats from employers including big businesses and governments are impressive, and it’s been reported to also improve productivity and engagement.
VeryWellMind “Talkspace stands out among its competitors in providing personalized and affordable talk therapy and psychiatry services.”
User, Apple Store “Not everyone can afford therapy and this offers a more cost effective option. I chose this because the format fit my lifestyle and allowed me to theoretically check in wherever I was. Unfortunately, I found it not as consistent or focused as I wanted. My therapist seemed well intentioned but I had to keep poking him to check in or talk.”
What is the best mental health app for you?
As you can see there are so many mental health apps out there. We’ve only scratched the surface. What makes mental health apps effective is a mix of evidence, research, user friendly interfaces and accessibility. But most importantly it’s about finding the right one for your needs. Mental health apps are great ways to get the support you need in a convenient way that is aligned to your healthcare goals and any worries or mental health symptoms you have.
Never think that your mental health symptoms aren’t serious enough for support. If you’re struggling in any way, it’s important to get some kind of help, and mental health apps are a great way to begin that self care and therapy journey.
If you’re in crisis please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in your country.
⚠️If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is at hand. Please visit this list of helplines and resources for different countries.
Photo by Greta Hoffman