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The 7 Best Apps for Depression in 2021

The 7 Best Apps for Depression in 2021


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From meditation to mood tracking, we found some of the best apps to help you manage your depression symptoms.

  • Best for meditation: Headspace
  • Best for sleep: Calm
  • Best for self-guided therapy: Youper
  • Best for community support: Sanvello: Anxiety and Depression
  • Best for AI-based therapy: Wysa
  • Best for daily mood tracking: Daylio
  • Best game: SuperBetter

Living with depression and feeling hopeless or unable to enjoy things that used to bring you joy can be challenging. But you’re not alone. Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions worldwide.

In 2017, approximately 17.3 million U.S. adults had at least one major episode of depression. That’s slightly over 7% of the adult population.

But 2020 and 2021 aren’t exactly “normal” years. Due to COVID-19, depression symptoms are now more than three times higher than they were pre-pandemic. The biggest increase came from individuals with less social and economic resources.

While apps to combat depression won’t replace medication or therapy, they may help decrease your stress and alleviate some of your depression symptoms, according to research from 2017.

We know that when you’re experiencing symptoms of depression and are trying to find relief, you don’t necessarily want to wade through tons of apps to find the best one. So, we’ve rounded up our favorites from skills-based assistance to sleep stories and even games.

To find the right apps, we reviewed numerous contenders, looking at the following:

  • Rating. We focused on apps with the highest overall ratings from thousands of users.
  • User reviews. We looked closely at what users thought about the app.
  • Operating system. All the apps are available for both Android and iOS.
  • Price. All apps on our list offer free options.

Best app for meditation

Headspace

Price: Free for basic services; $12.99 per month or $69.99 per year for premium. Student and family plans are available.

Founded by a former Brit turned Buddhist monk turned event planner, Headspace has been around since 2010. With the goal of providing people guided meditations anytime, anywhere, Headspace now also includes animations, articles, and videos.

What we like

  • Meditations vary in length.
  • Meditations are available for a large variety of experiences and situations.
  • You can often select different guide levels (guided, semi-guided, unguided) and voices (e.g., male vs. female).

What to look out for

  • If you don’t pay for an upgrade, you’re stuck listening to the same few meditations over and over again.

Best for sleep

Calm

Price: Free for some features; $14.99 per month, $69.99 per year, or $399.00 for a one-time, lifetime purchase for premium.

Regularly recognized as one of the best apps for sleep, Calm’s sleep stories feature some well-known voices like Matthew McConaughey, Idris Elba, Ariana Grande, and Kate Winslet. Like the celebrities, there’s a wide range of story styles to choose from, including fairy tales and ASMR. There are even nap sessions available if you need to shut your eyes for just a few minutes midday.

What we like

  • The Calm app is updated regularly so you won’t get bored listening to the same stories over and over again.
  • There are sleep stories designed specifically for children.
  • There are “Gently Back to Sleep” options for when you wake up in the middle of the night.

What to look out for

  • The sleep stories can be too long for some people.
  • Only a few of the stories are included in the free version of the app.

Best for self-guided therapy

Youper

Price: Free for basic services; $3.75 per month, $44.99 per year for an Emotional Health Plan

Created by doctors and therapists, Youper is short for “You” + “Super.” It was designed to empower people to take charge of their own mental health. Through the use of artificial intelligence technology, you can receive daily therapeutic exercise recommendations. The app relies on user data to improve their services.

What we like

  • The app asks you a series of questions to determine your mood and feelings, and what exercises would work best for you at that moment.
  • Even though it’s AI, you feel like you’re communicating with a real person who cares about you.
  • The app is built on scientific data.

What to look out for

  • If you’re not interested in tracking your mood and just want to do a skill, there’s no option to move past the mood tracker.
  • To access all the features, you need a subscription.

Best for community support

Sanvello: Anxiety and Depression

Price: Covered by some insurance plans; $8.99 per month, $53.99 per year for the Self-Care plan; $50 per month, $350 per year to include journey classes and 1:1 coaching; approximately $140 for an initial therapy appointment and $85 for the average follow-up appointments.

Sanvello is a full-service app, providing everything from goal tracking and exercises to coaching and therapy. But their community of users, which Sanvello bills as a “judgment-free, label-free space,” is where it’s at. If you need a sympathetic “ear” or some encouragement, fellow app users can chime in with words of understanding or encouragement.

What we like

  • It’s a safe space for anyone who is experiencing anxiety or depression. There’s no bullying or negativity.
  • Connecting with hundreds of others who are experiencing the same things as you can make you feel less alone.
  • Therapy sessions are more affordable than many in-person providers.

What to look out for

  • You can get blocked from posting if you talk about suicide.
  • You could be denied therapy and receive a recommendation to find a different provider, based on your responses to the initial questionnaire.

Best for AI-based therapy

Wysa

Price: AI chats are free; $11.99 per month for access to tools and a well-being coach or therapist.

Wysa and it’s AI penguin are an “almost therapy” option that gives you the right therapeutic tools and techniques at the right time. After answering several questions, the Wysa penguin will suggest:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) techniques
  • meditation
  • breathing exercises
  • yoga
  • motivational interviewing
  • micro-actions

Founded by health professionals, Wysa’s goal is to help you talk and work through your symptoms, regardless of the time of day or night.

What we like

  • No more 50-minute therapy sessions — Wysa will “listen” for as long as it takes you to work through your thoughts and feelings.
  • Many users find the Wysa penguin adorable, making it easier to talk to a bot and eliminating the fear of burdening a friend with your problems.
  • You can receive help from the Wysa penguin without paying for a premium version.

What to look out for

  • The penguin is, sadly, not real. Sometimes it can feel like you’re in a loop.
  • If you experience severe depression, the penguin isn’t a substitute for professional help.

Best for daily mood tracking

Daylio

Price: Free, $2.99 per month; $24 per year

Daylio is bullet journaling without lifting a pencil, complete with icons and emojis to match your moods. You can customize your colors, themes, and goals, just like you would in an actual bullet journal. Or, you can keep it simple and just track your mood and activities.

If you journal regularly, you’ll be able to track your mood or activities over time with monthly or annual statistics. Plus, you can create a PIN to lock the app, so anyone who has access to your phone password can’t find their way to your personal journal.

What we like

  • Daylio is an easy and simple app for basic journaling.
  • Along with choosing your colors, icons, and emojis, you can add your own notes and photos to truly customize each entry.
  • You can begin to see behavior patterns over time, which could help you recognize activities, foods, or even people triggering your symptoms.

What to look out for

  • The many statistics can feel overwhelming.
  • You can get a lot more features in the premium version, which may get frustrating or disappointing if you were looking for a free journaling tool.

Best game

SuperBetter

Price: Free

Believe it or not, you can play a game to help you overcome some of your symptoms. SuperBetter is that game.

Created by a game designer who was living with depression, SuperBetter helps you build resilience by using the psychological strengths found in gaming.

The goal is to use the virtual world to provide you with skills you need to overcome difficult situations in life. Some research indicates that SuperBetter may help reduce symptoms of depression, though researchers involved in the study were connected to the app, which may influence results.

What we like

  • The game is specifically designed to improve your mental health, with challenges that have you dealing with your real-life difficulties virtually.
  • The “battles” in the app mimic real life, such as a challenge to get up off the couch and take just one step or even get a drink of water.
  • There are specific games created for the pandemic, such as Stay at Home Scavenger Hunt where you build social connections while remaining physically distant and Stay Strong in a Pandemic that provides skills to help you through this time.

What to look out for

  • For true gamers, SuperBetter may seem too basic.

Living with depression isn’t always easy — and adding a pandemic to the mix makes it even more difficult.

Having a variety of tools available to manage your symptoms can help you get through those challenging moments or days. And, hopefully, improve your mood and overall energy.

While apps can’t replace medication and therapy, they can be helpful tools in relieving symptoms of depression.


Mobile Health Apps: Providing Better Care to Patients in 2021

Luckily, it was during an era of rapidly advancing technology that the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

While the outside world was put on hold and life stood still, individuals, communities, and organizations could still connect in modified ways.

Through Zoom and Skype meetings, FaceTime, and various other modalities, loved ones could stay in touch, businesses could continue operating, and people were able to navigate life in an uncertain world.

Part of that world required the ability to obtain healthcare. In particular, mental health became more of a priority than ever as schools closed, people were physically isolated, illness spread, and lives were lost. During that time, mobile health apps began to change healthcare across the globe.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.


Depression

Depression is one of the world’s top public health problems, affecting over 300 million people globally. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) has been identified as one of the most burdensome mental health disorders in the U.S. due to its high prevalence and impact on functioning. Estimates of U.S. lifetime prevalence rates for depression range from 4-12% for men and 15-25% for women.

While depression may not be commonly associated with traumatic experiences such as combat, rates of depression in our servicemen and women are not insignificant. Depressive disorders accounted for 17% of all mental health disorder diagnoses between 2000-2011. Certain subsets of the Active Duty population were more susceptible to developing symptoms of depression (e.g. females, younger Service members and those with lower rank). Deployment with combat exposure can also lead to an increased chance of new onset depression. Of those who have deployed as part of the Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom conflicts, an estimated 13-15% have reported symptoms of depression. Such symptoms can lead to impairment in occupational and social functioning, posing substantial concern for our Service members and the military mission. Veterans, similarly, show high rates of MDD, with lifetime prevalence rates two to three times higher than the general population.

Typically, there is not a single event or factor that is the cause for someone’s depression. Instead, a variety of interactive variables contribute to the development and maintenance of depression, including physiological, psychological, and environmental factors. In addition, Service members may face unique challenges that contribute to depression (e.g. deployment, long duty hours, relationship stress due to military factors, frequent relocation, etc.). Military cultural factors may also influence the manifestation of depressive symptoms, making it less evident that a Service member or Veteran is experiencing depressive symptoms. As part of their training, military members may learn to hide their true emotions, even in a therapy session. It may take longer for a Service member to openly disclose their symptoms and the severity of these concerns. In fact, some Service members wait so long to seek help that their depression becomes more severe.

With these statistics on depression in our military, it is fortunate that we have evidence-based psychotherapies to reduce, and at times resolve, symptoms of depression. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Depression (CBT-D) is a first-line intervention for depression recommended by the VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of MDD (2016). CBT-D is a structured, time-limited, present-focused approach that helps patients develop strategies to modify unhelpful thoughts and behaviors in order to assist them in resolving current problems and managing their mood.

For a brief description of CBT-D, click here or on the "Depression Treatments" button on the right side of this page. Additionally, CDP offers two-day training workshops in CBT-D using both in person and live online formats. Click here or on the Upcoming Training Events button on this page to view training opportunities and to learn how to how to register for a training event.


Best for Stress

Stop, Breathe, Think

This app was created by the folks at the nonprofit Tools For Peace, which teaches mindfulness and meditation to teens and empowers them to become more compassionate. Developed for adults, teens, and children, it is perfect when for when you’re overwhelmed by intense emotions like anxiety, stress, sadness, or anger. When you notice intense feelings arise, you can turn to the app, and it guides you through the practice of stopping, calming your mind and body through breathing, observing your thoughts, and then participating in a short meditation.

Cost: Packages range from as little as $4.91/month to a one-time fee of $299 for unlimited lifetime access

An Apple Best of 2018 award winner, Calm's offerings run the gamut from masterclasses (on things like creativity and holistic health) and guided videos on stretching, to sleep stories (think soothing bedtime stories for grownups) and meditation series that address specific areas in life, like anxiety, focus, self-esteem, and self-care. There are meditations for college students and meditations and sleep stories for kids as well. Each day, there is a new “Daily Calm” meditation with a different theme, and you can track the number of days and minutes you meditate.

Cost: $12.99/month, $59.99/year, or a one-time fee of $399.99 for unlimited lifetime access

This app pairs your current mental state with the best meditation or relaxation strategies to help you reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, as well as increase happiness. Aura offers guided meditations, relaxing nature sounds, short stories to redirect your worrying mind, tranquil music, a place to note things you’re grateful for, and more.

Cost: Free or premium membership for $11.99/month, $94.99/year or one-time fee of $399.99 for lifetime access

PTSD Coach

Created by the Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD and the U.S. Department of Defense National Center for Telehealth and Technology, PTSD Coach is designed to assist people who suffer from—or who may suffer from—post-traumatic stress disorder. It offers a self-assessment to help determine whether you may be suffering from PTSD, resources on how to reach out and get professional care, and tools to help manage the stresses of day-to-life. There are relaxation exercises and activities to help with anger management as well as positive self-talk.


3. Youper

Rating:

Android: 4.7

Price: Free with optional in-app purchases

Why we like it:

Youper takes a different approach to mindfulness than the other apps listed.

Through the use of AI, Youper acts as your Emotional Health Assistant that helps you monitor and improve your emotions by talking about how you’re feeling.

The quick conversations that you have with Youper are based on different therapies and techniques like CBT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, other science-based approaches.

Even if you don’t feel like talking, Youper has an awesome feature that allows you to listen to Youper talking you through mindfulness practices, as well as gain insight on symptoms to help you understand yourself better.


Top Apps for Your Mental Health

Apps may never replace a therapist. Or maybe they will. Good efficacy data isn't yet available but it's unarguable that an app is available 24/7 instead of 50 minutes a week, is more patient than a human therapist, there's no stigma to using an app, and it's dramatically less expensive.

Of course, for some people, therapy and/or drugs will be needed but, for cost and convenience alone, or if only as an adjunct to therapy, the following eight apps and two YouTube channels deserve a look. They all incorporate well-established psychological principles and have high user ratings across many reviewers.

Pacifica (iPhone and Android, $3.99 a month after a seven-day free trial) is a suite of activities designed to reduce anxiety and depression. It allows you to rate and track your mood, to voice-record your negative reactions to events and to respond to questions to help you reframe those events so they bother you less. Pacifica offers relaxation techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, and deep breathing. Plus, it lets you set and track daily health goals for reducers of anxiety and depression such as exercise, sleep, and relationships. Here's a 30-second introductory video.

Moodkit (iPhone, $4.99) covers similar ground to Pacifica but offers 200 activities to choose from plus a journal that asks you questions and offers templates to help you archive your thoughts. Some say that Moodkit includes so much and its interface isn't as slick as Pacifica's, so it can feel complicated. Others love it. Here's a two-minute introductory video.

After publication of this article a reader, "Katie," suggested What's Up?.iPhone, $3.99) It covers similar ground and has fine reader reviews. While less pretty, it offers useful other features such as 12 common negative thinking patters and simple methods to overcome them, and The Grounding Game, with 100 questions to keep you grounded when stress is taking over. .

Because these programs are similar and so inexpensive, you might try all three to see which works best for you.

WebMD's Depression TV (free) This site offers a series of well-produced short videos, including one by Andrew Solomon, depression sufferer and author of the National Book Award-winning book on depression, Noonday Demon.

Habit building

Way of Life (iPhone, free, $4.99 for the premium version) In that premium version, you can specify up to 10 habits you want to make or break, get as many or few reminders as you want, and track your progress. Way of Life has an easy interface and shows your progress on beautiful charts. Here's a 30-second introductory video.

Rewire Habit Tracker (Android 4.5, free). This is similar and it rewards you for winning streaks--days in a row that you maintain a habit. Here's a two-minute introductory video--Ignore its scary music.

IM Quit (Android, free) It tracks your successes and failures and allows you to note what you're doing or thinking when they occur. IM Quit offers encouraging quotes and you can substitute your own.

12 Steps AA Companion (iPhone, Android, $1.99). It tracks your progress and includes much of the AA Big Book plus personal stories. It makes it easy to find support from other AA members, for example, using your phone's GPS to direct you to a nearby AA support person. Here's a 30-second introductory video.

HBO's Addiction Channel: This offers a series of quality videos accompanied by authoritative articles.

Live OCD Free (iPhone, $79.99) It contains both an adult or child version. It guides you through desensitization exercises, for example, for five minutes, practicing opening a doorknob without washing your hands. Embedded are tools to help you relax as you're practicing. You can set reminders to practice, it keeps track of your progress, and you can set it to give you rewards for meeting the goals you set. It also contains tools to help you reduce compulsions. Here's a five-minute introductory video to the adult version. Here's a seven-minute introductory video to the kids version.

Operation Reach Out (iPhone, Android, free). This uses brief videos to help people who are having suicidal thoughts to reassess their thinking. tt also makes it easy to get help when in crisis, for example, a phone number to a suicide help line. The app also offers guidance for family members. It was developed by the military but is useful to all who might need it.

The takeaway

Trying out one of these apps is one of the lower-risk steps you can take to improve your mental wellbeing and day-to-day functioning. I hope you'll try at least one.



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