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Why mental health apps can be useful
While they can't always take the place of one-on-one expert help, apps can be an inexpensive way to reduce your stress and improve your sense of well-being. And when fatigue, childcare, work, weather, or other factors make it hard to leave the house, apps can be a helpful supplement to sessions with a provider.
Many apps are based on behavioral science. They can make it far easier to start – and continue – meditating, doing breathing exercises, and tracking your mood.
Keep in mind that there's also helpful mental health content that's not packaged in an app. Tara Brach, Mindful, and Greater Good offer guided meditations and other resources on their websites.
What to look for in a mental health app
Read reviews on the app store and by independent reviewers to find out whether an app can meet your needs.
If possible, find out if the app is based on research or evidence. You can often find this in the app description, independent reviews, or the developers' websites (check the "About' section or FAQs).
Always check the pricing, ideally before you install and set up an account. Most apps offer a free download and trial period but then charge fees for the full experience (by the month or for premium content). Some make it hard to find their pricing before you decide to download.
Here are our app picks, based on experts' opinions and dozens of reviews.
Meditation and breathing apps
Insight Timer (IOS & Android, free)
This app is a one-stop-shop for mindfulness-based stress reduction. You can listen to a worldwide network of teachers giving talks or guided meditations on just about any subject, or log your own freestyle mindfulness practice. It's also available in many languages. Most of the thousands of tracks are free, and some premium courses are available for $59.99 per year.
Calm (IOS & Android, $12.99/month or $59.99/year)
This is a research-based app for mindfulness, stress, and better sleep. The seven- and 21-day courses are a structured way to get started. There's also a bedtime story feature to help with insomnia.
Expectful (IOS & Android, exclusive 30-day free trial, then $9.99/month or $59.99/year)
This is a meditation and sleep app especially for expectant and new parents. Some users are fans of the soothing palette and targeted content.
Also worth a look: Headspace, Ten Percent Happier, Stop, Breathe & Think
Sleep Cycle (IOS & Android, free basic version)
This popular Swedish app analyzes your sleep patterns and wakes you up when you're in a light stage of sleep so you don't feel so groggy. New parents may not have the luxury of waking up at the optimal time, but it's also a good tool for tracking your sleep patterns. The premium version costs $29.99 per year.
Pzizz (IOS & Android, $9.99/month or $69.99/year)
Based on the science of psychoacoustics (how sound can affect behavior), pzizz uses sound sequences layered with narrations designed to help you fall asleep. It's clinically proven to work and learns what works for you. The free "classic" version is very limited.
Relax Melodies (IOS & Android, $9.99/month)
With guided meditations, breathing exercises, a sound library, and bedtime stories, you can use this popular app to fall asleep or to relax during the day. With a subscription, you can design your own soundscapes.
Daylio (IOS & Android, free)
This is a popular icon-based mood tracker and journal to help you spot patterns in how you're feeling. The app is free, but you can pay to upgrade to the ad-free version.
SAM (IOS & Android, free)
Developed in partnership with a UK university, this free app to manage anxiety has a nice design. And the "cloud" feature lets you share your feelings anonymously.
Youper (IOS & Android, free basic version)
Billing itself as an emotional health assistant, Youper uses artificial intelligence (AI) to have mood-boosting conversations with you. It also has a mood tracker and stress-reduction tools. The premium version costs $12.99 per month.
Therapy apps offer a convenient, less-expensive way to meet virtually with a therapist. But use caution, because experts say that while online therapy can be helpful for people with mild to moderate mental health concerns, it may not be appropriate for more difficult issues like suicidal ideation, complex trauma, eating disorders, and panic attacks.
A better option may be to use a professional directory (like the one at Psychology Today) to find therapists in your state or city who can offer in-person, phone, or online sessions. Visit your insurance carrier's website or call for a list of covered providers. (Out-of-network providers may be partially covered; always check first.)
No matter what kind of therapy you choose, make sure that your therapist is a licensed mental health professional. Anyone can call him- or herself a "coach" or "counselor," but that doesn't mean he or she has mental health training.
If you ever have thoughts of harming yourself and you need to talk to someone right away, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 for free, confidential support.
Talkspace (IOS & Android, $65+/week, $120 off with the code MOMLIFE)
This app matches you to a licensed therapist and you "meet" with a 10-minute live video. Pricing includes unlimited messaging; live video sessions are extra. (Pricier plans include live sessions.) It also offers a couples-therapy option, as well as help for teens 13+.
BetterHelp (IOS & Android, $65/week)
This app also matches you to a licensed therapist. You can send your therapist unlimited messages, and the price includes real-time chat, audio, or video sessions.