Overview: Apps on our mobile phones can help us develop the knowledge, skills and habits necessary to build and sustain our physical and mental health. But how do you find the best apps in a sea of hundreds of thousands of them? This ‘how to’ guide gives you some starting points for finding and assessing health-related apps. Reading time ~ 7 minutes.
That mobile phone in your pocket is an incredibly powerful device. It has the power to connect you to a vast range of digital tools that can positively impact on your physical and mental health. It might be meditation apps (e.g. https://www.smilingmind.com.au/) or apps designed to help you build resilience (https://onemindpsyberguide.org/apps/superbetter/). Never before have we had such availability of knowledge and tools at our literal fingertips.
The challenge is finding good tools amongst a sea of crappy ones. There are (no joke) hundreds of thousands of health-related apps across both the Apple and Android app stores. Worse still, even the best health and mental health apps have only modest effects on health, so it is important to find decent ones.
Fortunately, there are a few sites that can help you weed out the good ones from the crappy ones. We’ve listed them below.
We recommend that you start your search for health-related apps at one of these sites. Identify what it is you want help with (e.g. anxiety, drug and alcohol use) and search these sites and see what comes up.
This isn’t to say that you can’t just do a Google search (e.g. ‘best apps for …..’) but starting with one of these sites dedicated to finding good apps, may help shorten the process of sifting through the many options.
Once you’ve found an app you think might be useful, be prepared to experiment with it for a while to see if it works for you. It might be highly rated or high quality, but it might not be useful in your circumstances. It took me a bit of experimentation before I found a meditation app that I really liked. Be prepared to try a few on your way to finding those that become a staple in your life.
Head to Health
If you’re trying to improve your own mental health, or support somebody else with their mental health, Head to Health provides links to trusted Australian online and phone supports, resources and treatment options, including mobile apps. Many of the resources you find via head-to-health will be websites, but they will be optimised for use on mobile devices.
Reachout is a website focused on the health and wellbeing of young people. Their tools and apps section includes professionally-reviewed mobile apps that help you look after your health and wellbeing.
eMHPrac is a resource for mental health professionals but their list of mental health focused websites and apps is quite comprehensive, and you can browse by topic.
Vic Health Healthy Living Apps
Vic Health spent some time reviewing health apps in 2018. The results of their reviews can be found at this address – https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/media-and-resources/vichealth-apps Includes apps for wellbeing, healthy eating, physical activity, drug and alcohol use and more.
One Mind PsyberGuide is a non-profit project that aims to help people to use technology to live a mentally healthier life. They professionally review digital mental tools with a focus on mental health apps – https://onemindpsyberguide.org/
My Health Apps is a catalogue of health apps developed by Patient View (consultancy firm) which seeks to locate health apps (across multiple categories) that have been recommended by consumers, patient groups and different organisations.
Alberta Health Services in Canada have produced a Mobile Apps Directory covering apps for different mental health conditions, including addiction. The directory is intended for health professionals but you may find some of their recommendations useful in your own search for mobile tools.
How do I know which apps are good and which ones are not?
When you find an app you think might be helpful, here are a few things to ask yourself to help assess the quality of the app.
- Did I pick the app on the basis of a recommendation I got from one of the sites above?
- Is it clear who made the app? Is this person or organisation reputable?
- Do a Google search and see if the app has been reviewed.
- Is there any evidence that health professionals were involved in the development of the app?
- Is there any evidence that the app has been tested in scientific studies? (this is still quite rare, so excellent if you can find evidence the app has been tested). If they have been tested, what were the results?
- Is the app well reviewed within its respective app store?
- How is the app funded? The source of the funding might point to some potential bias in the app (e.g. funded by a pharmaceutical company).
- Is it clear how your private information is handled?
- Are the makers of the app making overly positive claims about the app? Look out for apps promising ‘quick fixes’ or ‘secret strategies’. The literature shows that the health effects from using apps are modest at best, so anyone making grand claims is likely being untruthful.
Some apps are intended to supplement already well-established interventions
Many apps aren’t intended to be health promoting, but instead to supplement and add value to existing activities that are likely to be healthy (e.g. exercise).
For example, the big tech companies (Apple, Google, Samsung) all have apps for their devices that help you track exercise, diet and sleep. So do the companies who make wearables (like Fitbit). I have a Fitbit and find the information I get from their app on stress, sleep and physical activity to be very useful.
In these cases, the benefit from the app comes more from encouraging you to engage in healthy eating, regular exercise and better sleep.
I can’t find what I am looking for
Are you looking for a particular type of health or mental health app, but can’t find what you are looking for? Drop me a line and I will try to help you find something appropriate – firstname.lastname@example.org
I found a great app that I’d like to share!
We keep track of wellbeing-focused apps that have been recommended to us by students or health professionals. If you’ve used an app for health purposes and found it useful, we’d love to hear about it. Submit your favourite health app to email@example.com