5 Free Mental Health Apps That Could Help Your Teen

Date Posted

February 27, 2023


Lindsay Schwartz

Teen Mental Health App Blog

The past several years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of mental health apps available for download. As a parent or caregiver of a teenager living with depression – or even dealing with stress, it can be confusing to determine which of these apps are effective ways to monitor and improve mental health. Which are evidence-based? Which are looking to hook your teen into making unnecessary in-app purchases? Here are a few apps that are both supported by mental health research and free for your teen to use.

Mental Health Apps

1. Not OK

Not OK was created by the sister and brother duo Hannah and Charlie Lucas. It offers peer-to-peer support through a network of “trusted contacts” chosen by the user. With one click, your teen can alert family and friends that they are in need of support. The app sends your teen’s location and allows you (or another trusted contact) to respond, letting your teen know help is on the way. Your teen can access guided breathing exercises and crisis text lines while they wait for support to arrive.

“In today’s society, we crave perfection. We crave the flawless image. Frankly we just need to get ok with not being ok…. That’s what this app is for.”

-Hannah Lucas, creator of “Not OK” app

2. UCLA Mindfulness

Teen Scrolling Mental Health AppsCreated by the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC), this app provides instant access to a library of mindfulness meditations that can be practiced anytime, anywhere. MARC also offers a weekly drop-in meditation session with alternating themes such as anxiety, gratitude, and compassion. Users can search for meditations by subject and bookmark sessions for future use.

“Through mindfulness practice we can access our innate, fundamental well-being, which is profoundly needed for ourselves, our communities, and our world, especially in these times.”

-Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education at MARC

3. Virtual Hope Box

The Virtual Hope Box (VHB) was designed to be used as an adjunct to traditional mental health therapy. Developed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VHB is one of the few empirically-tested smartphone apps designed to support people at risk of attempting suicide. The rationale behind VHB is simple: people living with depression often struggle to recall the positive aspects of their lives. VHB users can customize the app with photos of friends and family, music, relaxation exercises, and inspirational quotes. The app also includes a “Distract Me” section of games and puzzles as well as a collection of “Coping Cards” and an activity planner.

“The best way out is always through.”

-Robert Frost, poet whose inspirational quotes appear on VHB

4. 3 Good Things

3 Good Things is a privacy-protected, online journal inspired by gratitude research. Research shows that writing about what you are grateful for promotes better psychological and physical health. Developed in consultation with researchers at Duke University, 3 Good Things allows users the option of sharing their most uplifting moments within groups of family and friends, or in the publicly posted “positivity feed.” The app can also send reminders that encourage users to reflect on the good things in their lives.

“Commonly, the end of the day becomes a time for reflection on the negative, as we replay the conversations, events, and thoughts that did not go well. What’s missing is a healthy dwelling on the good things, the happy moments that brought a quick smile to our faces and joy to our days.”

-Michala Ritz, MPH, co-creator of 3 Good Things app

5. Avocation

Avocation is a habit-tracking app that helps users set goals and create positive habits. Based on the science of behavior change, Avocation provides suggested activities for stress relief, productivity, relationships, and general health. Users can customize the experience by writing in their own goals, as well. While Avocation is free to download and use the basic features, users need to make a one-time, $9.99 in-app purchase if they want to access content like unlimited habits and reminders.

“If you walk the same forest path every day, over time you will notice it getting wider. The same applies to habits, just that instead of forest paths you have neural connections in your brain… even the tiniest contributions over time sum up to a significant improvement when repeated regularly.”

-Daria Travnytska, co-founder of Avocation app

Mother and Son on Mental Health AppsAssessing Mental Health Apps

While an app should not replace traditional therapy, it can be a helpful accessory to mental health treatment. And of course, the above list is by no means exhaustive. New mental health apps are constantly being developed and released.

In evaluating whether an app is appropriate for your teen, it’s helpful to consider the following:

  • Who is the content producer? Are they connected with a reputable hospital, university, or health institution? This can be a clue about accountability and a research base.
  • What is the content producer’s objective? Look for apps that aim to promote public health versus those looking to turn a profit.
  • Is the app a source of connection or isolation? While parents and caregivers have to be cautious about how their teens are connecting online, generally speaking, connection is preferable to solitude for those living with depression.
  • Is the app active or passive? Look for content that prompts your teen to think, respond, or engage in an activity. Does the content help build any new skills?

For more information and in-depth reviews of apps, games, and more, visit commonsensemedia.org. Keep learning how to support your teen’s relationship with technology by watching our webinar, Creating Healthy Tech and Media Habits with Your Teen.

Lindsay Schwartz is a psychotherapist in private practice in Acton, MA, where she specializes in the treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders. She has a background in school counseling and a special interest in mindfulness-based treatments.  Lindsay earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and English from Williams College, and her Master’s degree in Social Work from Simmons College. In her free time, Lindsay enjoys writing, reading, running, and spending time with her husband and 2 children.