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Apps for digital wellbeing

Open Door is a team of professionals at the University of York providing support to students experiencing psychological or mental health difficulties. For this article, the Operations Manager for Open Door, Laila Fish, writes about the landscape of wellbeing apps…

The app market is huge, and constantly growing: over a thousand mobile apps are being produced each day, which doesn’t make choosing between them any easier! There are many apps that claim to help with our mental health and wellbeing, but, as we saw in Week One, we need to be discerning in our choices and critical in our judgement.

Throughout this MOOC we’ve rehearsed some of the ongoing and valid concerns about the impact of technology on mental health, but as Dr Lina Gega explained, technology can also play a role in improving mental health and wellbeing. Whilst not a replacement for face-to-face support or clinical interventions, digital technology and apps can be hugely beneficial in combating loneliness and social isolation – something of particular value in a university setting where students may be living away from home for the first time. Interaction with digital technology can therefore play a positive role in young people’s lives.

For many young people, the digital environment and the devices they use to experience it are embedded into their daily lives, and the boundaries between the virtual and physical world are increasingly indistinguishable. We’ve seen in Week Two that the separation of online and offline is becoming ever-more blurred. For young people we are seeing a massive reliance on technology to develop their identities and to socialise with one another. That technology can play a positive, productive, and creative role in their development and social participation.

And it isn’t just the young who can benefit from such things. In the UK, half a million older people go at least five days a week without coming into contact with anyone at all, and digital technologies are being employed in an effort to overcome this, at least to some degree. There are other areas too where digital technologies can support our health and social care: Leeds-based project mHabitat have a number of case-studies and an open library of online publications on the topic.

So it is that, for a while now, digital technology and apps have been around to help with wellbeing and mental health: they are wide ranging, and they are numerous. Below is a list of some of the apps recommended to manage mental health and wellbeing:

  • SAM is an app developed by the University of the West of England (UWE) to understand and manage anxiety. It allows users to monitor and visualise anxiety levels, explore self-help techniques (including multimedia and mini-games), and share advice with the user community.

  • Headspace is a popular app for guided meditation, aimed at reducing stress and anxiety. The app operates a subscription model but some basic content is free.

  • Self-Heal is an app to help people who self-harm. It provides crisis management suggestions, support contact information, inspiring images, and distracting tasks to enable users to anonymously and independently manage their recovery.

  • In Hand is about the here and now. It aims to help you focus yourself in a moment of stress or low mood. It is currently only available for iPhone.

  • Stay Alive App is a suicide prevention resource for the UK. It offers help and support both to people with thoughts of suicide and to people concerned about someone else.

  • Moodometer is an interactive mood diary for monitoring and understanding emotional wellbeing. It was developed for the 2gether NHS Foundation Trust, but is only available for iPhone.

Lots of other apps to help with mental health can be found on UK-based research and consultancy group PatientView’s My Health Apps website (see their inclusion methodology), and in the NHS Apps Library (see their inclusion methodology). If you’ve any suggestions of your own, feel free to add them in the comments.

Again, it’s important to stress that such apps should not be seen as a replacement for face-to-face support or clinical interventions, and you should assess any app carefully before deciding to use it (take a look back at Susan’s video from Week One for a reminder of how to be a critical consumer of information). But the array of apps available is a useful reminder that there are many approaches to managing your mental health and wellbeing, and some of those are digital in nature. The online world needn’t be our enemy in this regard.

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This article is from the free online course:

Digital Wellbeing

University of York