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Mental Health Tech Tools for Kids Dealing With Depression or Anxiety

Apps, sites and text hotlines to help kids cope with issues from stress to suicide

Published on: September 17, 2020

boy on cell phone

Growing up has never lacked challenges, but it seems today's kids are having an especially rough time. Research varies, but the number of kids with anxiety and depression is at an all-time high. Though the links among social media, tech use and mental health issues aren't entirely clear, we do know that kids who are already struggling often come away from social media feeling worse than they did before they scrolled through their feeds.

Of course, talking to them and getting in-person, professional help is the first and best course of action if you think your kid is struggling. But there are also ways kids can carry around sources of support — right on their phones.

Popular social media like FacebookTumblrInstagram and Kik Messenger offer some resources for kids while they're using the platforms.

For text support, tools such as the Crisis Text Line offer immediate help. And for LGBTQ kids, who are more at risk for suicide than the general population, It Gets Better and The Trevor Project provide resources and counseling services.

But kids who are feeling anxious or depressed can also turn to one or more of these apps when talking to someone in person feels overwhelming or logistically difficult, like when it's late at night.

Depending on the kind of support your kid needs, tech tools fall into three major categories: immediate help, ongoing support and positive focus. Since the apps are handling sensitive information, it's a good idea to check out each one's privacy policy. Though none can replace your love and understanding or a professional's help, they might be an added boost to get your kid through a tough time.

1. For immediate help

  • My3

    Though no parent wants to think about their kid feeling suicidal, it's important to talk about it if that's what's happening. This app gives kids a powerful tool for those critical moments. It includes a three-person contact list to call for help if they're in despair (911 and the National Suicide Hotline are automatically included), a self-created safety plan, and other resources. Because it was created by mental health professionals, the app uses vetted strategies to help kids avoid suicidal thoughts and suggests positive actions to take when they need more support.

  • Calm Harm - Manages Self Harm 

    When teens feel compelled to harm themselves in times of distress, this app offers them lots of ways to derail those impulses under categories like Comfort, Distract and Breathe. After they choose a method, they set a timer so they can move on when the urge passes. Over time, they might be able to internalize these strategies. Teens can also include a personal call list so they can reach out to someone in those moments.

2. For ongoing support

  • HappiMe for Young People 

    Using a kid-friendly approach, this app walks kids through four steps: Learn, Recognize, Deal With Your Emotions and Replace. It helps kids picture their thoughts as something separate from themselves — the chimp, the computer and the happitar — a psychological method that allows people to deal with negative thoughts at a distance. The company offers two more versions, one for younger kids and one for adults.

  • Virtual Hope Box
    This tool uses three modes — Remind Me, Distract Me and Relax Me — to help teens stay connected during stressful times. Teens can store images, such as personal photos, and activities, such as songs, quotations, and even games such as Sudoku, to use when they need to. They can also meditate or use a "coping card" they've pre-created.

3. For a positive focus

  • Apart of Me 

    This unique app uses a gentle adventure-game approach to tackle tough topics. By exploring a beautiful world, getting guidance from its characters and doing periodic meditations, kids can learn about some tools for handling tough times. Apart of Me also offers audio recordings from real kids that provide a model for working through difficulties.

  • Three Good Things 
    This teen-created app lets kids write about three positive experiences every day. They can also set a daily reminder and review old entries to remind them of their positive thoughts.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published by Common Sense Media in 2019 and republished with permission. 

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