Smartphone apps for depression can help track your moods, activity level, and medication goals. Consider these aids for managing depression.
Chances are, you use your smartphone for far more than just making calls. On any given day you might use it to text, check your email, browse the Internet, or use an app. But did you know your smartphone can also help you manage major depression?
There are countless mental health apps for people who want to track their mood, cope with anxiety, test themselves for depression, improve their sleep, and follow a healthy lifestyle. But knowing how to find reputable, effective mental health apps is no small feat.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has not yet issued guidelines on the use of such apps, but is currently working on how to assess them, says John Torous, MD, a psychiatrist with Brigham and Women’s and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and chair of the APA’s Smartphone App Taskforce.
Early studies show there’s a role for these apps. For instance, Dr. Torous and fellow researchers reported in the January-March 2015 issue of the journal JMIR Mental Health that people with major depression who use apps are diligent about recording important information and that health assessment scores derived from entries may provide greater insights than scores of traditional doctor-administered questionnaires. “The way people report depression to a doctor in a clinic is different from the way they report it to a smartphone,” Torous says.
This difference can be helpful to your doctor or therapist if you share the data. For example, it can be difficult to recall specifics when your therapist asks you about your sleep quality or moods over the past weeks, but if you’ve tracked it all in real time, you can simply provide a printout or a visual from your smartphone app.
Different mental health apps can be beneficial for different reasons. Some focus onmindfulness, which is the practice of focusing on the present moment without judging it. A good app for managing depression should promote self-reflection, and mood-tracking apps can also be good for this, says David Bakker, an Australian researcher and doctoral student at Monash. Bakker was part of a team that reviewed research on mental health apps and made recommendations for helpful features in the March 2016 issue of JMIR Mental Health.
Torous emphasizes that using mental health apps can be most helpful if you and your doctor or therapist set goals together. He also says to pay attention to the fine print: Take time to research the app’s product description page to find out if the app is based on clinical evidence and what level of privacy your information will have. If you’re unsure if an app would be good for you to use, ask your doctor or therapist at your next appointment.
8 Depression App Options
All of the following psychiatrist- and patient-approved apps are available for both iOS and Android smartphones:
AmWell: “Telehealth is promising,” Torous says — in many locales, telehealth consultations are covered by health insurance in a way that’s similar to coverage for office visits. This free app gives you in-person access to medical professionals for questions related to depression, among other conditions. Before booking an appointment on this or any other telehealth app, check with your health insurance to find out if you have telehealth coverage.
CBT-i Coach: Sleep changes can be a significant part of living with depression, Torous points out. This free app takes a cognitive behavioral therapy-based approach to managing insomnia. CBT-i Coach teaches users how their sleep-related behaviors and thoughts may be affecting their sleep. It’s among a suite of apps vetted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to recommend to military service members, veterans, and families as well as the public.
Headspace: According to the American Psychological Association, practicing mindfulness can help prevent a depression relapse. The Headspace app offers tools to help with meditation and mindfulness. There’s a free version as well as subscription packages ranging from $6 to $12 a month for access to the entire meditation toolkit.
Mindfulness Coach: This app focuses on developing mindfulness to manage stress. Mindfulness Coach is another free app available through the VA. Although developed for veterans and service members, the app is available to the general public as well.
MoodKit: This app enables you to journal and track your moods daily and provides tools for improving your mood and managing your thoughts. It costs $4.99.
MoodPrism: This free app gives feedback on your daily mood entries and turns the information into reports on your emotional health. MoodPrism was developed with the support of Australian mental health organizations and Monash University.
Pacifica: Based on cognitive behavioral therapy, this free app lets you track your mood, thoughts, daily goals, and activity levels. Toronto resident and mental health advocate Alicia Raimundo uses it to keep track of her mood and daily activities. Raimundo, now 26, has lived with depression since she was 12. To get the most out of Pacifica, “You need to have a plan for what you’re going to do with the information,” she says. That way, if you realize you’ve been marking down that you’re sad for days at a time, you know that you’ll share it with your doctor, therapist, or support group.
PTSD Coach: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can go hand in hand with depression, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. PTSD Coach is another free app available through the VA. It was developed for people who have or might have PTSD. The app provides tools for managing symptoms of PTSD as well as resources for support.
Which Depression App Should You Download?
Until research provides more insight into which smartphone apps work best for managing depression, work with your doctor or therapist to determine the types of entries that will best help with your depression treatment plan, and then look for an app with those specific features. Remember that a mental health app isn’t meant to substitute for actual depression treatment, but it may be a good complement to traditional medical treatment for major depression.