Mobile apps for mental health – are they worth a try?

Health-related mobile apps have grown hugely in popularity in recent years, as people are embracing the opportunity to take control of their own health.

This holds true for mental health apps, especially as NHS mental health resources are been squeezed more and more by reduced funding and increased demand.

When can apps be useful?

It is important to first mention that apps cannot (yet) replace professional help or medical treatment when it is needed.
It is important to go to a doctor if you are struggling with your mental health in any way.

However, they can provide:

There are thousands of mental health apps out there, and finding the best and most-appropriate one for you can seem daunting or even impossible. To help guide you, we have reviewed some of the best apps out there for insomnia, anxiety, mood, self-harm or suicide support and general mental health.

Listed below are our top 3 suggestions for a range of mental health challenges.


Insomnia / difficulty sleeping
Name Description Cost Key features Ratings Pros / Cons Link
iSleep Easy A guided meditation app to help stop you worrying and relax into sleep

Cost

£3.99

There is also a free version

Key features

A calm female voice guides you though meditations of different lengths. You can make your own “playlist” of up to 6 meditations in one session. Listen voice alone or voice with music or nature sounds. Meditations include a special “Wee Hours Rescue” for when you wake up in the middle of the night, and tips for falling asleep.

Rating

Apple Store

Pros / Cons

add_circle_outline Pros

This app is highly customisable and has mostly glowing reviews

Link

file_download Apple Store

file_download Google Play

Deep Sleep with Andrew Johnson A guided meditation app intended to help you overcome insomnia and get to sleep

Cost

£2.99

On Apple Store

£1.89

On Google Play

Key features

This app is straightforward and features a warm, gentle voice guiding listeners through a “Progressive Muscle Relaxation” session and into sleep. It also has an alarm.

Rating

Apple Store

Google Play

Pros / Cons

add_circle_outline Pros

Generally, the reviews are very good

remove_circle_outline Cons

There are a few negative comments but these are rare

Link

file_download Apple Store

file_download Google Play

Sleepio An app-based programme that is tailored to help with your specific sleeping issues

Cost

£233

To get instant access, but is free through some employers/ the NHS in some areas. It is also free if you take part in their research

Key features

  • To use this app, you must have a login, which you can get by following the steps on the website.
  • The app guides you through a full cognitive behavioural therapy programme.
  • Sleepio has a strong evidence base – a study showed that it helped 76% of people with insomnia achieve healthy sleep. It is recommended by the NHS.

Rating

Apple Store

But negative reviews were due to bugs in early versions. Sleepio is recommended by the NHS.

Pros / Cons

add_circle_outline Pros

Very effective for most people, with a strong evidence base

remove_circle_outline Cons

It is expensive

Link

file_download Apple Store

file_download Google Play

file_download The Website

Anxiety and anxiety disorders
Name Description Cost Key features Ratings Pros / Cons Link
Self-help for anxiety management (SAM) An app developed by a research team in Bristol to help you understand, monitor and manage anxious thoughts and behaviour

Cost

Free

Key features

  • Record anxiety levels and identify different triggers
  • Includes 25 self-help options to help users cope with physical and mental aspects of anxiety
  • Create a personal toolkit of the app features you find most useful
  • A social cloud feature to share your experiences anonymously with the SAM community

Rating

Apple Store

Google Play

Pros / Cons

add_circle_outline Pros

Includes a large list of self-help options to try

remove_circle_outline Cons

The structure isn’t completely clear to begin with – it takes some time to see what is available

Link

file_download Apple Store

file_download Google Play

What’s up? Uses some of the best Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Acceptance Commitment Therapy methods to help you cope with depression, anxiety, anger, stress and more

Cost

Free

(With donations unlocking different colours/ themes)

Key features

  • “Help right now” (including breathing exercises etc.)
  • Coping strategies to help improve your resilience to stress, low mood and anxiety
  • Information about anger, anxiety, depression, self-esteem and stress
  • A personal diary to track your thoughts and feelings

Rating

Apple Store

Google Play

Pros / Cons

add_circle_outline Pros

  • Based on methods known to work
  • Helps with a wide range of mental health challenges, both in the short and longer term
  • The language is comforting and personal

remove_circle_outline Cons

Some sections involve a lot of text

Link

file_download Apple Store

file_download Google Play

Panic Relief An app targeted to help people with panic disorder by providing them with coping strategies for managing panic attacks. Made by a psychiatrist and specialist in cognitive therapy.

Cost

Free

(Limited)

Or

£0.99

For all features

Key features

  • Detailed information about panic disorder and panic attacks
  • Guidance through four simple exercise to help prevent an attack or reduce the intensity of symptoms

Rating

Google Play

Pros / Cons

add_circle_outline Pros

Easy-to-follow animations for the exercises

remove_circle_outline Cons

  • Very limited as the free version
  • Quite small text

Link

file_download Apple Store

file_download Google Play

Mood and mood disorders
Name Description Cost Key features Ratings Pros / Cons Link
MoodKit – mood improvement tools A CBT-based app designed to help you to improve your life, change how you think, monitor and become aware of your mood, and develop a healthy attitude. It can be used to enhance professional treatment of depression, or on its own.

Cost

£4.99

Key features

  • Over 200 mood improvement activities
  • Recommendations based on your needs
  • A thought and mood tracker
  • A journal, allowing you to create, save and export notes about mood-related activities

Rating

Apple Store

Pros / Cons

add_circle_outline Pros

  • A wide range of effective tools to try out
  • Repeatedly selected as one of the best mental health apps

remove_circle_outline Cons

More of a collection of tools than a programme to follow

Link

file_download Apple Store

file_download The Website

MoodTools – Depression Aid A self-help app targeting depression by incorporating tools based on effective therapy strategies. These include Cognitive-Behavioural therapy and Acceptance and Commitment therapy

Cost

Free

With an option to donate to support future mental health app improvements

Key features

  • 6 evidence-based tools to aid against clinical depression and negative moods
  • A depression test to track symptoms over time
  • Helpful videos to improve your mood and behaviour
  • A thought diary to confront negative thoughts
  • Activity suggestions
  • A Safety plan to keep you safe and utilize emergency resources during a suicidal crisis

Rating

Apple Store

Google Play

Pros / Cons

add_circle_outline Pros

  • A clear structure makes it easy to find and identify each tool
  • A great resource for helpful videos

remove_circle_outline Cons

The guide feature has a lot of text & can seem a bit overwhelming. This is not essential reading, however

Link

file_download Apple Store

file_download Google Play

Catch It – Making sense of your moods A joint project between the Universities of Liverpool and Manchester. It is based around the principles of CBT

Cost

Free

Key features

  • An online journal and mood tracker
  • Prompts to challenge our negative thoughts

Rating

Apple Store

Google Play

Pros / Cons

add_circle_outline Pros

A simple interface with easy diary entry

remove_circle_outline Cons

  • Adding diary entries takes a few minutes
  • No tips or prompting is given for the diary entries

Link

file_download Apple Store

file_download Google Play

General Mental health (i.e. support for a range of mental health conditions or general mental wellbeing)
Name Description Cost Key features Ratings Pros / Cons Link
RCPych Mental Health Developed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Provides general information about key mental health disorders and links to sources of further information

Cost

Free

Key features

  • Detailed information about mental health disorders and treatment options
  • Links to relevant videos and podcasts
  • Links to the Royal College Website for further info

Rating

Not enough ratings

Pros / Cons

add_circle_outline Pros

  • Covers a large range of mental health challenges
  • Information has strong evidence base

remove_circle_outline Cons

Hard to read on a smart phone screen (tilting your screen on its side helps!)

Link

file_download Apple Store

Headspace A mindfulness app guiding you through meditation exercises, breathing exercises and tips for increased relaxation and concentration. Can help with anxiety, depression, stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder and sleep problems.

Cost

Free

For first 10 days

Paying monthly:

£9.95/month

Paying annually:

£5.99/month

Lifetime:

£299.99

Key features

  • 100’s of themed sessions on everything from stress to sleep
  • Shorter meditations for busy schedules
  • SOS exercises in case of sudden meltdowns

Rating

Apple Store

Google Play

Pros / Cons

add_circle_outline Pros

  • There is a lot of evidence for the benefits of Mindfulness on mental health (see the Headspace website)
  • Good for a beginner
  • Describes basic concepts of mindfulness well
  • App is engaging, clear and easy-to-use

remove_circle_outline Cons

Expensive compared to other mindfulness meditation apps

Link

file_download Apple Store

file_download Google Play

file_download The Website

Buddhify 2 A mindfulness app designed to help you fit guided meditation into a busy daily lifestyle.

Cost

£4.99

Key features

  • Over 80 guided meditation tracks of a range of lengths
  • Tracks are designed for 15 different locations/ points of your day
  • A solo timer for when you would prefer to meditate without audio
  • A ‘together’ section, with community-related statistics and Q&A

Rating

Apple Store

Google Play

Pros / Cons

add_circle_outline Pros

  • Lots of choice in terms of meditation type and length, making it easy to fit practice in with a busy schedule
  • Cheaper than Headspace

remove_circle_outline Cons

There are a few complaints of the voice talking too fast/ too much, but most reviews are positive

Link

file_download Apple Store

file_download Google Play

file_download The Website

Pacifica A general mindfulness meditation and self-help app for general wellbeing, particularly when trying to manage stress or anxiety.

Cost

Free

For a basic version of the app

£4.49/month

If paying monthly

£2.24/month

If paying annually

Key features

  • Guided self-help paths, including audio lessons and helpful activities centred around Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or mindfulness
  • Relaxation techniques, including meditation, breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation
  • Mood and health tracking with a diary
  • Access to a peer support community – chat to others with similar experiences

Rating

Apple Store

Google Play

Pros / Cons

add_circle_outline Pros

Clear and easy-to-use presentation of CBT techniques, with less reliance on text entry than other apps

remove_circle_outline Cons

Requires a subscription for full access

Link

file_download Apple Store

file_download Google Play

file_download The Website