Follow-up on the effectiveness of mental health apps



For the last month, I have been trying out apps that aim to improve mental health of users. I installed the following apps: Headspace, Calm, Whats Up and Dailyo and aimed to use at least one of these every day for the month of January. Below, I will give my impression and opinions on these apps and whether I believe I learnt anything from using them.


Headspace:

When I installed Headspace, it asks me what my reason is for using the app, so it can be targeted at a specific area. It adds a disclaimed straight away that Headspace has not been proven nor is intended to diagnose, treat or cure disorders. So at least it’s being honest!



Aside from a basic introduction course, short animations and advice sound pieces, there is not much available that you don’t have to pay for first. What I found interesting is that there are meditation exercises for children under 5 as well as students, therefore it can be targeted for most ages. I enjoyed watching the short animations to help explain thought processes, these were very cute and good to reflect on.

Screenshot from a short animation on ‘noting’


Overall, Headspace offers primarily guided meditation and short courses on help with how to meditate, with focus on certain areas such as Stress, anxiety, personal growth and life challenges. Without paying £74.99 a year or £9.99 a month, I cannot say upfront whether these courses are beneficial. And I think for something which claims itself to have not been scientifically proven for its effectiveness, it’s debatable as to whether it is worth spending this amount of money when there is probably a wide range of targeted guided meditation videos on YouTube for free.

Calm:

I liked the feel of the Calm app. You can select a relaxing scene and sounds to play while on or away from the app in the background, which are very aesthetically pleasing. These is a Breathe section where you follow a dot around a circle and the circle expands and contracts as it tells you when to breathe in and out. This can potentially be very useful in times of sudden panic or stress. Calm also focuses on guided meditation as well as incorporating relaxing music, sleep stories (although there is only 1 for free) and short programmes e.g. 7 days of focus and Mindfulness at Work. These are focused on meditation and mindfulness techniques, and learning to change your core beliefs and negative thinking patterns (although only the first session is available on a select few programmes.)









There was a programme called 7 days of Calm which was entirely available for free so I listened to I completed this programme in the evenings for 7 days. This programme was focused on learning to meditate, focusing on the breaths and trying not to let the mind wander or get distracted. After completing this, I do feel like I can ‘master’ meditation a lot better than previous attempts, and I use the techniques in the programme to help ‘clear my mind’. I actually used what I learnt from the programme last week when I was feeling quite stressed. I sat in a dark room and focused on my breaths for just a few minutes to allow myself time to ‘recharge’ before continuing my busy schedule.

‘7 days of calm’ programme

Similarly to Headspace, most of the content can only be unlocked when paid for. Calm is £37.99 per year so relatively cheaper than Headspace. The introductory content is probably good enough on its own but I would be more inclined to pay this amount if I were interested in completing more 7 day programmes in the future.


Whats up?:

Honestly, I used this app the least, mainly because it is not as interactive as the other ones I tried. Whats Up? feels very reminiscent of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques. There is a section on Coping Strategies – including: unhelpful thinking patterns, metaphors, managing worries and positive steps. The Help Right Now includes a Get Grounded activity where it gets you to name 5 different ice cream flavours for instance to help distract.

There’s also lots of useful information regarding different mental health issues, uplifiting quotes, positive affirmations and breathing techniques. There is also a diary section where you can enter whatever you want and then rate your day as well as adding any positive or negative habits you would like to work on.

Overall, there is a lot of reading information on this app. I think this would be beneficial for those who are wanting to get into CBT but are maybe on a long waiting list to be seen or fear actually attending therapy sessions and talking in-depth about difficult subjects.

Dailyo:

Dailyo is what I have been using the most in January since it only takes a minute out of my day- it’s all about speed and efficiency with me!

Dailyo involves keeping a mood diary, whereby you can rate how you feel at any precise moment using a scale (the labels on the scale can be edited by yourself to keep it personalised). You can then add any activities you have been up to such as work, sport, good meal etc. I really like the simplicity of this app and how you can add your own activities onto the list (I added university, dogs, organised and yoga).





Once you have collected enough entries, you can look at your stats. This is where I get excited because I love a good graph! You can view your daily average mood, which activities were most popular (mine was overwhelmingly and unsurprisingly work), and see a chart of your mood and notice any peaks or dips. I think this is a good app for monitoring your mood changes and being able to reflect on how your day is going so far.


Out of all of the 4 apps I have tried, I think I will continue using Dailyo, but at the end of the day, you use whatever suits your needs!

Again, I have measured my social anxiety using the Liebowitz Scale. 

My previous rating on 30th December was 45 (for fear), 41 (for avoidance), which is a total of 86 overall, and labelled as ‘severe social phobia’.

After completing the scale again on 1st February, my rating is now 38 (for fear), 36 (for avoidance), which is a total of 74 overall, and labelled as ‘marked social phobia’.

I’m very surprised that the rating is significantly lower than that just over a month ago! However, it is of course hard to say whether these mental health apps have lowered my anxiety, or if other variables in my life have contributed to feelings less anxious. I have since started university again and earned a promotion at work, so perhaps these have contributed to improving my mental health.. who knows?!

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