Mental health apps

They say everything we need is now in our pockets, in the form of smartphones and apps. Think calculators, translators, cameras, and endless entertainment options. But could that trusty gadget also provide free therapy, in the form of mental health apps? I’m no stranger to therapy myself, having been to various school counsellors and therapists since my teenage years.

It’s been an uphill battle of building up my emotional resilience, a crucial quality which enables one to withstand hardship without crumbling in the face of adversity – be it academic or work stress, personal difficulties, and everything in between. Cultivating emotional resilience takes time, money, and plenty of commitment though, so regular therapy sessions aren’t always an option.

Hence, I decided to give free mental health apps a go. After all, they don’t cost a single cent and are pretty much OTOT – own time, own target. From guided meditation sessions for bouts of anxiety to calming “sleepcasts” to help me switch off negative thoughts and get some shut-eye, here are my tried and tested reviews:

1. Insight Timer – Guided meditation with live mindfulness coaching

How it works

Modern living has given us an abundance of stimulation at every corner, and the untrained mind is often buzzing with a million and one thoughts. 

Mental Health Apps - Insight Timer
Image adapted from Insight Timer screenshots

Insight Timer aims to help quieten down those pesky thoughts without you forcing yourself to “just stop thinking” or “think about nothing”. They have an extensive suite of guided meditation podcasts – we’re talking tens of thousands – and even livestream sessions you can tune into for interactive coaching.

Insight Timer mental health app review

The internet is teeming with meditation podcasts, on platforms like YouTube and Spotify which most people already use on a daily basis. Hence, my first thought was: why do I have to download another app just to listen to meditation guides, using up precious space on my phone?

Insight Timer meditation podcastThere are even podcasts by celebrities like Gisele Bündchen and Russell Brand 
Image adapted from Insight Timer screenshots

To my surprise, Insight Timer boasts one crucial feature I never knew the importance of till I had it – tailoring my themes. Now I’ll never be able to go back to simply searching “meditation” on YouTube and clicking the one with the most views. Or has the prettiest thumbnail, if I’m being honest.

The tailored themes allowed me to pick an episode that was suitable for my circumstance each time. On days where I felt particularly overwhelmed by work stress and personal issues, I found that pressing play and letting go of the tension and negative thoughts really helped me process the bad vibes. 

Mental Health Apps - Insight Timer meditation
Image adapted from Insight Timer screenshots

Pre-recorded meditation podcasts are one thing, but Insight Timer also hosts loads of live guided sessions every day, with certified coaches from around the world. If you wish to browse coaches by location, you’ll find hundreds of trainers from Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States, among others.

Overall, I would say that Insight Timer is a power-packed meditation and mindfulness resource, suitable for first-timers as well as seasoned meditation practitioners who have sifted through the internet’s offerings and are looking for more tailored guides. I also like that it’s quick and convenient, with some podcasts being a snappy two minutes long.

Compared to my pre-meditation days where I would just operate on autopilot throughout a bad patch, actively tending to my mental health made all the difference.

These short but impactful guided sessions allowed me to release my emotions instead of bottling them up. The intentional reflection also helped me find the courage and resilience to overcome whatever seemingly daunting struggles I had at the time, and think: “this too shall pass”.

Rating: 3.5/5

Download Insight Timer.

2. Headspace – anxiety management tools for each point of the day

How it works

Mental Health Apps - Headspace
Image adapted from Headspace screenshots

Beyond a library of podcasts, Headspace is an all-in-one resource anxiety management. What’s unique is that their recommendations are tailored to each point of the day, including gentle morning rituals to ease you into your routine, midday pick-me-ups, and soothing “sleepcasts” to lull you into a deep sleep.

Headspace mental health app review

Headspace mental health apps review
Image adapted from Headspace

I was impressed with how there seems to be an episode for almost every concern or goal under the sun. As I spent my time exploring the catalogue, I found episodes targeting anxiety stemming from thoughts of death and ageing, healing heartbreak after a breakup, and coping with impending work-driven burnouts. 

The sheer variety and specificity of their episodes gave me assurance that the app wasn’t aiming for a one-size-fits-all cure. Their resources were in line with issues that people of all ages could relate to, including unprecedented challenges that my generation is now facing.

This includes the potential damage of social media, how it opens up unhealthy comparisons which can eat away at your psyche, and how to cultivate a healthy self-esteem.

Headspace Soundscapes Sleepcasts
Image adapted from Headspace

Another aspect of Headspace which I really enjoy is the wide variety of sleepcasts. These range from breathing exercises to slow down your heart rate and reduce mental chatter, to immersive soundscapes, which are 3D recordings from tranquil environments. 

Think forest streams with birds chirping in the background, wind howling through treetops, and a familiar sound which many of us city slickers find relaxing – rain going pitter-patter on the roof of a car, accompanied by the rumble of the engine and intermittent traffic noises.

These immersive recordings aided in my development of healthy emotional resilience, allowing me to soothe my frazzled nerves and take a breather when everything seemed too overwhelming.

Letting the vivid soundscapes temporarily transport me to a different state of mind meant removing myself from a cycle of negative thoughts. This simple act enabled me to see the bigger picture, and realise that the very stressors that caused me to feel close to breaking down, actually weren’t that serious after all.

Headspace Plus premium membership
Image adapted from Headspace

One thing I will have to minus marks for, however, is that many of the features are premium-exclusive. Beyond surface level podcasts and video guides, the good stuff will only be unlocked when you purchase the Headspace Plus subscription.

It’s priced at roughly $20/month if you’re opting for a low-commitment plan, or just over $10/month if you get the annual subscription. Considering that there are loads of free resources on the internet, I didn’t feel inclined to fork out money beyond my month-long trial.

Rating: 4/5

Download Headspace.

3. MindShift – Science-based relief techniques for panic and anxiety

How it works

Mental Health Apps - MindShift
Image adapted from MindShift screenshots

MindShift is the most “science-y” one of the lot, placing a strong emphasis on research-derived techniques for quick and effective anxiety management. It takes a more diagnostic approach, as opposed to general maintenance of one’s stress and anxiety levels over a day-to-day basis.

Unlike the previous mental health apps listed above which are largely centered around podcasts and videos, MindShift contains mostly written guides and short-form challenges instead, with a considerable catalogue of podcasts thrown into the mix. 

MindShift mental health app review

MindShift Mood Tracking
Image adapted from MindShift screenshots

The first thing you’ll see on the app homepage is a prompt for you to indicate your mood at the moment. This is followed by a more in-depth form where you have to rate the level of intensity for that mood, and log your personal feelings and reasons behind it.

Mood tacking journaling

I’ve tried journaling and mood tracking using pen and paper before. As some of you might be able to relate to, I became lazy and procrastinatory quite quickly, and just gave it up entirely. 

What started out as a way for me to regulate my emotions and take better care of my mental health then turned into a reason for me to beat myself up, and develop an overly negative mindset surrounding my own discipline and capabilities.

Interestingly enough, this incident was able to open my eyes to the fact that I struggle with perfectionism in both my work life and personal habits. It was then an opportunity for me to practise being kinder to myself, and having more patience when it comes to seeking solutions that suit my style.

That’s where MindShift’s mood-tracking function came in, with digital entries that take just a minute to log. Everything is then conveniently compiled within my phone, a device which is pretty much with me at all times of the day anyway, so that works a treat.

MindShift Anxiety Management
Image adapted from MindShift screenshots

With the rise in popularity of YouTube, Instagram and TikTok over more text-based media like blogs and articles, you may think that 100% of this current generation prefers bite-sized visual content over the written word. 

Personally, there are times where I would rather sit down and do some focused reading instead of tuning into podcasts and videos, so the engaging written guides on the app were right up my alley.

The discreet nature of simply reading off your screen also means I can consume the tips anywhere and anytime, be it in the office while taking a break from work or on my commute after an emotionally exhausting day. It also saves me the trouble of having to fumble with an earpiece when I’m out in public and need some quick anxiety relief.

MindShift app review
Image adapted from MindShift screenshots

I would recommend this mental health app to those who experience panic attacks and bouts of anxiety during their day-to-day, as simply opening the app and tapping into their Chill Zone breathing exercises can make all the difference.

Rating: 4/5

Download MindShift.

Taking care of your mental health with the National Youth Council Singapore

It may be unrealistic to expect free mental health apps to replace an actual therapist, but it’s more of making the most out of what you have.

Adequate mental healthcare may not be accessible to everyone – across different age groups, backgrounds and circumstances – but it’s important to take good care of our mental well-being nonetheless. We should also realise and remember that we are never alone on this journey, and that it is okay to seek help.

After all, you’re eating right, keeping fit and taking care of your physical health to prevent suffering an injury or befalling a medical ailment. So why wouldn’t you take good care of your mind the same way, building up a strong psyche and healthy emotional resilience to prevent your mental health from taking a hit when things get tough?

For those who are apprehensive about making the first leap into mental healthcare and psychological solutions, it’s all about baby steps. Think of developing your emotional resilience as a lifelong journey as opposed to a destination you’re sprinting towards, and be kind to yourself as you explore different options to see what fits your needs best.

The National Youth Council (NYC) Singapore has a range of resources for Singaporeans looking for mental health aids. You can find the apps reviewed above, as well as other helpful resources neatly compiled on Youthopia’s Mental Wellbeing resource page. Some examples include:

  • Web-CHAT: An online service where youth support workers provide mental health info and assessments for distressed youth.
  • CARA: A community mobile app where youth can have anonymous conversations with trained peer supporters and seek professional help from counsellors.
  • Belle, Beyond The Label Helpbot: Get mental health resources and get linked up to professional services conveniently via Facebook Messenger.

For those seeking immediate assistance, Youthopia also has a list of hotlines in Singapore which include Samaritans of Singapore (SOS), Institute of Mental Health (IMH) National Care Hotline, Silver Ribbon Singapore, Limitless, and CampusPSY.

Find out more about NYC’s mental health resources here

This post was brought to you by the National Youth Council (NYC) Singapore.
Photography by Pichan Cruz.

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