Teen Develops App to Help Teens With Anxiety And Depression

Amanda Southworth came up with AnxietyHelper to help teens with mental health issues. Here’s how it works and how to know if a mental health app is helpful.

Anxiety helper

Amanda Southworth shows her anxiety app to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Can smartphone apps help people cope with anxiety and depression?

A 16-year-old software developer in California thinks they can.

Amanda Southworth is the young creator behind AnxietyHelper, an iPhone app designed to help people learn about and manage panic attacks, anxiety, and depression.

Inspired by her own experiences, Southworth wanted to create an easy-to-use platform for people living with these mental health challenges.

“This started for me back when I was in middle school, when I had a lot of issues regarding my own mental health, with depression and anxiety,” Southworth told Healthline.

“After I went through that, I wanted to create an all-in-one place where anybody could go and find information, resources, and tools,” she explained.

“Instead of spending hours looking on the internet,” she continued, “they could maybe spend 15 minutes perusing what I created, and they would have a solid idea of what they’re up against, how to fight it, and what they need to do next.”

How the app works

AnxietyHelper provides information about depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, as well as resources related to other mental health conditions.

It also offers interactive tools, designed to help users cope with mental illness on a day-to-day basis.

“The app has different tools that allow you to deal with mental health on the go, which kind of gamifies a lot of the aspects of therapy,” Southworth said.

For example, the app’s “guided vent” feature invites users to talk through their feelings to experience emotional release.

Amanda Southworth, 16, developed the AnxietyHelper app to help teens.

Its “guided breathing” feature promotes relaxation through meditative breathing breaks.

The app can also help users locate mental health services during a crisis.

“One of my favorite quotes is ‘be the person you needed when you were younger,’” Southworth said. “I wanted to create something that I would have wanted and something that I really needed when I was going through all of this.”

In addition to designing AnxietyHelper, Southworth is also the executive director of Astra Labs, a nonprofit software development company that she co-founded earlier this year.

Some apps are better than others

Mobile health apps constitute a rapidly growing market — and many software developers have designed apps that target users with mental illness.

Stephen Schueller, PhD, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University in Illinois who studies online mental health interventions, told Healthline that some of these apps may provide useful information and support.

“There’s the potential that these apps can help reach people who wouldn’t be able to go see a professional otherwise,” Schueller said.

Due to a shortage of mental health professionals and affordable services, many people with mental illness lack access to professional care.

Additionally, some people may be reluctant or unwilling to seek professional support and prefer to self-manage their mental health needs.

It’s possible that high-quality mental health apps may provide benefits to such people, as well as those who receive professional care but want additional support.

However, it can be challenging to know which apps to choose.

“A lot of them are untested, so we don’t actually know if they work,” Schueller noted.

“There could also be really bad apps out there,” he continued. “I receive and evaluate a lot of apps, and sometimes you open them up and there’s content in there that’s not just wrong but could actually be harmful.”

Some mental health professionals also worry that users might rely on apps, when they would otherwise seek professional care.

Schueller acknowledged that’s possible, but he hasn’t seen evidence of it himself.

“I know a lot of professionals are worried that people will download these apps, not see professionals, and never go for treatment later. I think it’s possible that would occur, but that’s not borne out by my research at least,” Schueller said.

“Actually, what I find more often is people start to use an app, and if they use it a bit, they find there’s more to this mental health treatment stuff than they thought originally, and they actually have more positive impressions of mental health treatment than they had before and are more likely to seek care afterward,” he said.

Collaboration is important

Schueller directs the nonprofit website PsyberGuide.org, founded by the organization One Mind to help users make informed choices.

This website provides information about mental health apps, including their credibility, user friendliness, and privacy policies.

“We look at credibility. So, how much research evidence is there behind this thing, both direct and indirect? We look at the user experience. Is it aesthetically pleasing, it is easy to learn, is it easy to use? And then we look at transparency around data security and privacy practices,” Schueller explained.

This project is partnered with several mental health organizations, including the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and Mental Health America.

According to Schueller, such collaboration is important for leveraging the opportunities that technologies provide.

“There’s this really interesting potential now for someone to go through an experience, learn what helps them, and build a tool that might be able to help others,” he said.

“At the same time, we also have to make sure that what works for one person is actually generalizable and useful to others,” he continued. “As academics, professionals, and mental health providers, we need to make sure that we can help people who are developing these ideas, try to vet them, and see if these things actually do work — so we can spread the stuff that is useful and prevent the things that are not going to be helpful to people.”

More research is also needed to learn how mental health providers can best integrate mental health apps and other digital technologies into their practices.

In the meantime, Schueller encourages people who experience symptoms of mental illness to reach out to family members, friends, and health professionals for help.

“Technology might be a piece of the puzzle to help cope with some of the experiences of depression or anxiety that someone is going through, but it’s not a panacea — it’s not going to solve the whole problem,” he said.

“I think that thinking about a variety of different options usually makes a lot of sense,” he continued. “Talk with your medical provider about this, if you have a medical provider, even if they’re not a mental health professional. They can hopefully get you connected with services once they know more about what you’re going through.”

Written by Heather Cruickshank on June 28, 2018


  1. Yeah, not entirely sure that doing more stuff with a phone is the way to help teens with their mental health. That said, there’s a free EMDR app that I find can help me calm my mind for a little while.

    I sure like the part about talking about feelings and experiences until achieving “emotional release”. If all we do is list our problems, we’ll stay depressed. But being helped to find emotional release is what we need. I’m gonna ponder that one more and maybe blog about it.

    Thanks for throwing thought-provoking stuff out there!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi friend
      I truly appreciate and understand the concern about more apps to give kids a reason to stay on the internet and social media. I think the story was pertinent because a teenager saw a problem and took action. If it helps a number of children then we can focus the others who need more help or are limited to time spent on the Internet. I don’t have children but know I would be a strict parent on computer and phone time.
      I suffer form Treatment Resistant Bipolar Disorder, I think avoiding social media is best for me. The number of trolls and people who rains on anyones parade is mind boggling.
      So glad you shared an opposing side of the story, that’s how we keep the conversation going and hope the younger generations will have a better experience in the future.
      Have a great day. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        1. There is good hiding in the rough. I have a huge dislike of kids being on social media at all but that’s my issue. I think many parents disappoint their kids by not monitoring and limiting use. Thanks for the reply. 🙂


  2. I think this is the exact opposite of what they need. Teens Don’t need an app to help with depression and anxiety, social media and the cell phone are the biggest anxiety creators in the world! What they need to do is put their phones down and go outside.

    I was extremely depressed and anxious until I quit using Facebook Daily. I might get on there once a week for five or 10 minutes that’s all. And since I’ve done that, my life has become so much more productive and better all the way around.

    if you have anxiety the last thing you need is something giving you notifications every five minutes about stuff that has no importance in your life.

    At least turn your new cell phone notifications off and pick a set time where you look at your phone once a day to go through your notifications. at least turn your cell phone notifications off and pick a set time where you look at your phone once a day to go through your notifications.

    You might be thinking well I need my phone what if something happens. That’s the exact reason why depression and anxiety rates are on the climb.

    If there is an emergency they will call you. You don’t need to be notified when someone posts on Facebook or Twitter or when somebody emails you.

    These kids today need to learn how to live without a cell phone.

    Watch these short videos:

    Is social media making us unsocial?”

    “ your cell phone may be causing your anxiety”

    Liked by 2 people

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