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Beyond Therapy: What are mHealth apps?

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When most people think of “mental health,” they tend to think of therapy.

While therapy can be transformative, it isn’t the only option available to those seeking mental health support. Over the past few years there has been a big increase in other kinds of support options, each with their own strengths, costs, and approaches. Even if you want therapy, these other kinds of support may be helpful to use while you’re waiting to get started with your therapist. They may even be recommended by your therapist to help you make progress in therapy.

In our Beyond Therapy series, we’ll give you an overview of some of the most common and effective options other than therapy, how to figure out if they fit your needs, and where to look when you are ready for help. In this post, we focus on mobile health (mHealth) apps.

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What are mHealth apps?

With mHealth apps, you use your smartphone or tablet to download apps aimed at improving your mental health. The number of mHealth apps increases every year and currently there are as many as 20,000!1, 2 In most cases, these apps don’t involve interacting with anyone else. Instead, you guide yourself through the resources and tools in the app.

Given that so many mHealth apps exist, you’re likely to find one for just about every type of problem and purpose. For example, apps can help you relax, track your mood, practice mindfulness, learn about anxiety, set sleep goals, and stop smoking.

Below are a few example of free mHealth apps:

  • Happify: For Stress & Worry takes a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach to help with symptoms of stress, anxiety, and negative thinking. Users can learn about mental health, track their symptoms, and learn coping tools.
  • PTSD Coach App provides information about PTSD treatment, measures for tracking symptoms, support options, and coping tools. There is also a PTSD Family Coach version. 
  • MENDÜ is a guided journaling app for people of color interested in taking care of their mental health.

What are the pros and cons of mHealth apps?

There are many benefits to mHealth apps that may make them the right fit for you. Many apps are free and flexible (you can use them anywhere), making them easy to fit in your budget and busy schedule. By sending you notifications, mHealth apps can help you remember to track your mental health symptoms and stay on top of your mental health goals.

mHealth apps aren’t an option if you do not own a smartphone or tablet. They also may not be the best option if you’re looking for support that involves working with a trained professional or talking to others. If this is true for you, explore Therapy4thePeople’s directory of free and low cost mental health supports to find other options like therapy, support groups, and hotlines.

How do I know if I should use an mHealth app or start therapy?

Starting therapy can feel like a big commitment. mHealth apps can be a good alternative if you can’t make therapy fit in your schedule, can’t find affordable therapy near you, or can’t find a therapist with openings. They may also be a good entry into taking care of your mental health when you’re not sure if you need therapy yet.

If you think you might like to try therapy, explore our resources (Therapy Financial Aid 101, How Do I Know if I Need Therapy?, Finding the Right Therapist guides) to make the process easier. If you end up on a waitlist for therapy, mHealth apps are a great resource to use while you wait to get started with a therapist.

The more tools you have to support your mental health, the better. mHealth apps may be one of the many ways you take care of your mental health. For example, even if you’re already in therapy, your therapist may suggest that you use mHealth apps to track your mood between sessions.

Who offers mHealth apps and where can you find them?

Not all mHealth apps are created equal. If an app sounds like it can help with a problem you’re struggling with, don’t take it at face value! While some apps were created by mental health organizations, many were created by private companies with no expertise in mental health. In general, the app store is not the best place to start your search for mHealth apps because it’s very hard to determine the quality of an app other than by looking at its ratings.

Before downloading an mHealth app for the first time, explore Therapy4thePeople’s directory, which includes high-quality and affordable mHealth apps. Our directory explains the full costs of an app and whether it was designed to help someone with your identity or background. This can help you find an app that fits your budget and unique needs.

You can also look to see if One Mind PsyberGuide’s team of experts have reviewed an mHealth app you’re considering. PsyberGuide rates many important aspects of apps including their credibility (pay close attention to whether there is data showing that the app works), user experience, and transparency.

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