Kids' Mental Health Tech Tools for Suicide Help, Coping Skills, and Professional Support
Growing up has never lacked challenges, but it seems today's kids are having an especially rough time. Anxiety, depression, and the youth suicide rate have been on the rise for the last decade, especially for girls and kids of color. With the global coronavirus pandemic pushing kids' lives even more online, it's safe to say that the need for easily accessible mental health tech tools that kids can use privately and safely is more critical than ever. While many popular resources are available for adults, we've identified a handful designed just for kids that allow for immediate support whenever and wherever they need it.
Everyone's mental health journey will be different. Talking to your kids and getting in-person, professional help is the first and best course of action if you think your kid is struggling. But digital tools can be an added boost to get your kid through a tough time, and are particularly helpful for kids who feel marginalized in the offline world. Depending on your family's needs, you can find apps and sites for immediate help, ongoing support, information and awareness, and positive focus. If your kid is going to use any of these tools, it's a good idea to review them yourself to see how they work and to check their privacy policies to learn how they handle sensitive information.
These organizations offer guidance for families, whether you need app recommendations or more comprehensive services.
PsyberGuide. A nonprofit expert review board that evaluates popular digital mental health tools for credibility, privacy, supporting research, and other key elements.
ChildMind Institute. An independent nonprofit agency that provides research, advice for parents, and professional referrals for a wide range of mental health disorders.
Make sure your kid has access to immediate help in case they ever need it. Consider sitting down with your kid and adding these resources to their contacts.
National Suicide Hotline
Crisis Text Line
Immediate Help for Kids in Crisis
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. For kids who feel compelled to harm themselves in times of distress, this app offers proven methods to derail those impulses under categories like Comfort, Distract, and Breathe. After they choose a method, they set a timer so that they can move on when the urge passes. Over time, they might be able to internalize these strategies. Kids can also save a personal call list so that they can reach out to someone in those moments.
It Gets Better. LGBTQ+ youth face specific challenges around mental health, especially if their family or community isn't accepting. This site offers tons of video stories from a variety of people in the LGBTQ+ community that offer examples around how "it gets better." Kids can click on Get Help for access to resources that provide immediate help.
The Trevor Project. Geared toward LGBTQ+ kids, The Trevor Project offers a range of ways to connect, so kids can find some support using whatever means are available at the moment. They can call, instant-message, text, or use The Trevor Project social network to connect with a trained counselor or other teens.
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.
Sanvello. Created with mental health professionals, this app offers an array of therapeutic tools and services. Kids can set goals, schedule time each day to focus on mental health, join community forums, access a new therapist or their own (if their therapist works with the app), use guided meditations, and more.
Virtual Hope Box. This tool uses three modes -- Remind Me, Distract Me, and Relax Me -- to help kids stay connected during stressful times. The ability to store images, such as personal photos, and activities, such as songs, quotations, and even games like sudoku, allows kids to comfort themselves when they're struggling. They can also meditate or use a "coping card" they've pre-created.
COVID Coach. Though this app was created by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the resources it offers are also helpful to teens. With the sections Manage Stress, Mood Check, Learn, and Find Resources, kids can explore meditation, ideas for indoor activities, and sleep tools.
Atlas Co. Atlas Co. helps kids create positive daily routines to maintain their mental health. The app offers a short podcast, encourages self-reflection, and lets kids journal about what's happening in their lives. They can also set goals and get advice about teen-focused concerns, like college admissions.
Wysa: Mental Health Support. Though getting support from a chatbot might seem like a strange approach, the AI character in this app can offer daily validation and reminders around recurring mental health challenges. A paid version of the app includes access to a therapist if the free chatbot isn't helpful, plus other tools to maintain emotional wellness.
For Information and Awareness
TeensHealth.org. With resources for kids, teens, parents, and educators, this site has information for everyone. And though there's also information about physical health, relationships, and more, the Mind section covers a range of common concerns, like body image, dating, and dealing with stress.
National Alliance on Mental Illness. The NAMI website offers a wealth of information for kids who want to learn more about mental health disorders, research specific concerns, or even help a friend in crisis.
For a Positive Focus
Apart of Me. This unique app uses a gentle adventure-game approach to tackle tough topics geared toward kids dealing with loss. By exploring a beautiful world, getting guidance from its characters, and doing periodic meditations, kids can process their feelings and get strategies 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 remember their positive thoughts.
Headspace: Meditation and Sleep. Created by a former Buddhist monk, this app uses common meditation techniques such as breath awareness to establish a serene, aware space for the mind to rest. After a two-week free trial, Headspace costs $12.99 per month. But kids who have Snapchat can access a stripped-down version with mini-meditations for free (just search for "Headspace").
To learn more about how young people have been using social media and digital health tools to take care of their mental health during the pandemic, see Coping with COVID-19: How Young People Use Digital Media to Manage Their Mental Health.