The 5 best mental health apps to try in 2020

Olivia Tan

We ask a clinical psychologist about apps people can use alongside therapy to take care of their stress, anxiety and depression

Olivia Tan |

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Given what’s been going on in Hong Kong recently, it’s not surprising young people are discussing their mental health. According to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Playground Association last year, at least a third of young people in the city suffer from stress, anxiety, or depression.

Increasingly, people are turning to technology to help them deal with these issues. Apps that offer basic tools for monitoring or maintaining good mental health have become popular thanks to their low (or zero) cost and ease of accessibility.

Wing Wong is a clinical psychologist and member of the Hong Kong Psychological Society. While she is glad that apps encourage people to think about their mental health, she warns that they shouldn’t take the place of professional help.

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“In clinical psychology and psychotherapy, human interaction and communication are important,” Wong says. “Digital apps cannot easily replace therapy because emotions are too complex [for artificial intelligence] to understand.”

Wong adds that not all apps are credible.

“These apps are usually developed by NGOs who do not have enough money or knowledge to create a reliable app. Some psychological tests can be done online, but most are not serious at all. As a psychologist, I can tell whether a source is credible or not, but it’s hard for young students to differentiate.”

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This is not to say that none of this technology is useful. When paired with therapy, mental health apps can be a great tool for helping users track their moods or practise mindful behaviour.

The bottom line is, if you’re experiencing mental health issues, your first step should be to see a therapist, psychiatrist, or counsellor. But if you’re looking for daily mood-boosting activities as a supplement to your regular therapy sessions, Wong recommends these five.

newlife.330

newlife.330 is an app created by local NGO New Life Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association. It teaches people how to practise mindfulness and encourages them to follow simple practices to achieve harmony between their body and mind.

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Happify

Happify was created to improve people’s overall well-being and happiness through science-based games and activities. Based on principles of positive psychology, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioural therapy, each activity strengthens one of the six happiness “skills”: thank, aspire, savour, give, empathise, and revive.

Headspace

Headspace helps people practise mindfulness and build a regular routine for meditation. Users can choose to follow general meditative sessions, or specialised sessions focused on sleep, anxiety, stress, and more. These practices may help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

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Pacifica

This is designed to help people with stress, anxiety, and depression through mindfulness and the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. The app allows users to record their thoughts and mood and also track their health habits (sleep, exercise, etc). It also guides users through breathing, relaxation and visualisation exercises designed to reduce negative feelings.

What’s Up?

Using the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy and acceptance commitment therapy, What’s Up? provides methods that help users cope with issues such as anxiety, stress, and depression. Users can track their mood, learn coping mechanisms, and practise grounding and breathing exercises. The app can also help people overcome negative thinking patterns and poor habits through walk-through exercises, goal-setting, and trackers. It also has a forum where users can reach out if they need more support.

Edited by Nicole Moraleda