Thursday, 27 September 2018

Apps For Mental Health Guide

I think apps can be a great way of managing mental health problems (but not as a replacement for medical advice). There are so many ways in which apps can help, from connecting you to communities of people who can relate to you, to providing helpful advice and distractions in difficult times. It's comforting having something to lift your mood in your pocket at all times, and I think there's definitely an app for everyone. I've spent weeks reviewing a multitude of mental-health related apps (15!), so hopefully you'll find the one for you in this guide! 



Chats & Community

7 Cups // 7 Cups is an app that connects you to 'listeners' to support you via online chat. There are also community forums and group chats for a wide range of mental health conditions and general life worries. I really love that the app considers and offers support for mental health conditions that are more stigmatised and less discussed, as many are very anxiety/depression focussed with no support tailored towards personality disorders or OCD, for example. There are some extra features of the app that you can pay for, such as access to chats with therapists. My only critisisms of the app are that the user interface can be a little glitchy and slow, and the profiles of 'listeners' are often anonymous or catfish-y looking. For some, anonyminity is helpful, but for me to trust an online chat, I'd rather know who I'm talking to. Verdict: A great idea, but not for me. 

Instagram // Huh? Social media is the mental health devil! Not if you use it like I have been. I have a private Instagram account, just for me, where I document my achievements and feelings each day. It gives me a tangible reminder of everything I achieve, and every bad day I survive. For me, this is very helpful. I also exclusively follow positivity and mental health support accounts, so if my usual feed is getting me down, I just switch to this account and have a world of positive quotes, motivation, and support at my fingertips. Verdict: Surprisingly helpful!

Vent // Vent is a Facebook-meets-forum for those of us with mental illnesses. You can post statuses (called vents) with an 'emotion' attached, visible to the public feed or just yourself. There are groups to post to that function as forums, about everything from memes to makeup and mental illnesses. Within minutes of joining people were welcoming me to the app and keen to get to know me, which was lovely and could be helpful for people struggling to reach out. On the flipside, some of the groups such as 'depression' and 'anxiety support' were spaces for people to vent their sturggles, and so were difficult reading and were quite distressing and potentially triggering. Personally I find forums like this a little overwhelming so I can't forsee myself using this, but it really is a great tool for seeking support and chatting to likeminded people. Verdict: Handy for quick communication. 

Lyf // Straight away I knew this app was not for me. This app is designed for people to share their most personal business, which was a bit of a red flag to me. Then upon entering the app, I immediately noticed stigmatising imagery attached to discussion threads. Essentially anyone can make a thread to post about their 'lyf' journey, for people to support and discuss. This was anything from drug addictions to relationship problems. It just seemed full of people sharing their innermost private thoughts and details of their life, and judging each other. I honestly couldn't spend long on here because I was so uncomfortable. If sharing everything online helps, then go for it, but this kind of app makes me anxious and I find there's very little positivity in online spaces like this. Verdict: Hard pass. 

Distraction

Pixel Art - Colour by Numbers // We all know colouring is great for mindfulness and distracting ourselves from negative thoughts. It's something everyone is trying and loving, which is great. We all need to take time for our wellbeing! However, until recently, these groovy new adult colouring books weren't really working for me. I'd get part-way through and decide I hated my colour choices, I'm not creative enough, I'm terrible at art and so on. Something designed to make people happy always ended in me berating myself, like many things. This app is the perfect solution for me. You can erase any mistakes. The numbers tell you which colours to use on each pixel, so no more stressing over how the final piece will look. It's perfect. It has all the benefits of being calming and a distraction, with non of the pressure to be 'good' at it. Plus, it's always in my pocket whenever I need to sooth myself. For the record, I love the traditional adult colouring books now, and have found joy in art again! Verdict: I probably spend too much time on this. 

Calm Harm // Calm Harm is a distraction app for 'riding the wave' of self-harm urges. It's so easy to use, with categories such as 'comfort', 'distract', and 'release', followed by a choice of 5 minute and 15 minute options. Some of their suggestions include 'write a letter to yourself', 'shout loudly', and 'paint comforting colours'. The activity choices range from the more obvious to really refreshing and innovative ideas, and once you've chosen one, counts down 5 or 15 minutes for you. Once completed, the app asks you to check in and asks some questions about how you were feeling, and how you're doing after the activity. There's also a little note section to record anything extra. The app is super customisable with options for passwords, colour changes, and choice of 'guides' to 'ride the wave' with you. I honestly have nothing bad to say about this app - it's brilliant. Verdict: Perfect for the difficult moments. 

Mood Space // Honestly, I wasn't truly sure which section to put this in. There's a prompt-based diary section, a meditation section, and a 'note the positives' section. These are called 'mood workouts', designed to help train your brain against negative thought patterns. The app then maps your progress, known as your 'mood journey' for you to track. I love the design of this app - it's modern and whimsical and fun to look at with lovely imagery. It's well thought out with positivity clouds, customisable meditation options, and gentle prompts to help challenge negative thinking. I really adore this app. Verdict: Beautifully designed and thought-out. 


Diaries

Daylio // Daylio is a diary app that requires no typing. You simply add entries by selecting your mood on a scale followed by the activities you've been doing. The app then produces stats and useful information about your activities and mood patterns to see if they're connected. It also celebrates your achievements and gives the option to share them! It's a super customisable app too - you can add and delete activities, choose the little icons to go with them, change the colours, and protect your diary with a PIN. This app is really useful for quickly and easily making entries, which is really useful if your mental health has you wiped out and you're not up to writing paragraphs about your feelings. Verdict: Quick and easy!

Questions Diary // This was suggested as a mental health app, but isn't really. It's a diary app that asks you one question per day, then asks you the same questions again one year later to compare your answers. It's a good tool for mapping progress and does ask some thought provoking questions, providing good prompts for if you're struggling to know where to start writing. It's got a super simple interface and is so easy to use. There is a small community section, which is exactly how I imagine it would be if Twitter just chose who to follow for you. There's a lot of nonsensical shouting into the void. The diary section is really fun to use, and I'm keen to read my answers this time next year! Verdict: Super simple and interesting.

NHS WellMind // The NHS Wellmind app is predominantly a wellbeing diary, with some extra features too. You can record your mood, achievements, things to look forward to, and reasons to be grateful each day. There are also advice sections about stress, anxiety, depression, and crisis. These include information such as a map of potential physical symptoms, ways to help alleviate the stress, and crisis numbers. There are some short audio relaxion guides, and, bizarrely, a game of snake that pauses every so often to give self-care tips! For me, the app feels impersonal and a little bit higgledy-piggledy. The diary section is simplistic, but the advice sections are quite medical and 'sterile'. I think with a bit of refining and a gentler tone in the text, this app could be really handy. Verdict: Needs some more development. 

Meditation and Relaxation

Insight Timer // This app has more free guided meditations than any other app. It's easy to search for what you're needing, from 'self confidence' to 'sleep' - there's meditations for everything on this app. I love the guided meditations as sometimes I struggle to stay focused when meditating alone. You can bookmark your favourites to access them quickly, which I find really handy. There is also a customisable timer for non-guided meditation, with choices of ambient sounds, interval gongs, and more, which is great for having quiet 'me-time'. There are also social features, a personal profile section to check your participation stats, and courses to take, but I don't tend to use these myself. I'd really recommend this app for practising mindfulness, meditation, and taking some calm personal time. Verdict: Favourite meditation app. 

Calm // This is a rather fancy meditation app! It is paid-for access with a free 7-day trial. It features beautiful graphics and a huge range of meditations, music, and audio stories depending on what you're looking for help with. There's even things read by the soft voice of Stephen Fry. The attention to detail and extra features such as HD, filmed backgrounds to the audio features, and celebrity voiceovers may make it worth the yearly subscription fee. I did find the amount of features and the interface of this app a little complicated to use, and it took a lot of exploring to figure out what each part of the app was for. It is a beautiful app with all of the photography and videography, but it's a little bit too much for me. Verdict: Pretty, but a tad OTT. 

Pzizz // Pziss is just wonderful. It's a delightfully simplistic app, with 'dreamscapes' for sleep, naps, and focus. They feature music, ambient sound, and spoken voice to lull you into better sleep. You can tailor the volume so the music or voice is louder, choose between a male or female voice, and alter the 'intensity' of the focus music. They give you a different dreamscape with every use, each as helpful as the last. As someone who can really struggle to get to sleep, I find this app marvellously useful. The only sad thing is that after a 7-day trial, you have to pay. Boo! Verdict: Simple, perfect, I wish it was free! 

Miscellaneous

Wysa // Wysa is an adorable little owl AI who chats to you, assesses your areas of stress and difficulty, and offers gentle advice and support. There is also the option to speak to a human coach, rather than the AI, with experts in multiple areas, including boosting productivity, exam stress, low mood, and body image. This is a paid-for feature, so I didn't try it, but the reviews are good! There is also a 'toolkit' of exercises to help with panic, worrying thoughts, sleep, and more. They are short, easy tasks which I find really helpful. This app is brilliantly interactive and is really like a tiny friend in your pocket! The design is really calming and intutive, with natural day/night transitions in the colours and theming. I was expecting to find this a little cheesy or impersonal but ended up somewhat attached to my little owl! Verdict: Fun, cute, and comforting. 

Booster Buddy // Booster Buddy is a virtual pet! To take care of your Booster Buddy, you are asked to complete tasks to help keep you safe and improve your mental health. This includes taking your medication, adding an emergency contact, and checking in your mood. Booster Buddy can be tailored to your specific symptoms, and has an advice section for when you're struggling with specific things, for example, help with postponing larger decisions if you're feeling manic. I think it's really great that some of the symptoms this app assists with included psychosis, which is often left out. He can also send medication reminders. Completing the tasks earns 'coins' you can spend on dressing you little pal up in cute clothes! I think Booster Buddy is aimed at a slightly younger audience than me, or towards someone who really struggles with managing their day-to-day life. Whilst is is truly adorable and fun to use, I find the advice a little simplistic and common-sense for me, and I personally don't really need help remembering medication or crisis numbers. Verdict: Adorable, but for a younger demographic. 

If you've made it all the way to the bottom of this guide - well done and thank you! Did any of the apps catch your eye? Are there any apps I've missed out? I'd love to try out more and maybe write a part two of this guide, so I'd love some recommendations! 
  

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