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A Digital Approach to Mental Health

Fighting Depression with Avatars and Apps

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Launched in 2013, the SPEAK app has been made available to communities worldwide for free; it's been downloaded in various cities and countries, from Huntsville, Alabama, to Spain and the Caribbean. Recent updates to the app include an added element for the LGBTQ community, which faces special issues with stigma and discrimination. The app gives people anonymity, and as such, the county does not use it to gather data. Buttons throughout the app link to 24-hour crisis hotlines, which connect people to highly trained professionals. Because of the nature of the technology and the anonymity, there is no feedback loop to let administrators know if the SPEAK app is actually saving lives. But one school counselor in Kingston told Martello a story about a student who had a friend with suicidal thoughts. "This student went to her friend and helped her. The counselor said, 'How did you know what to say?' She said, 'Well, I have the app.'"

Amid the digital advances in mental health treatment and prevention, we can't forget about tried-and-true practices and evidence-based social services. People can always pick up the phone and call a hotline without the help of an app, and most regions have some form of mobile mental health assitance that's available on call. The Dutchess County Stabilization Center in Poughkeepsie offers an alternative to a hospital emergency room for mental health and substance use crises and is open 24/7 year-round. Mobile mental health services—available in Orange and Ulster counties through ACCESS: Supports for Living—bring responders to the home (or school or workplace) of a person in crisis. Sometimes it's a lifesaving service, and sometimes it's less critical but can launch the start of a treatment journey.

While social media, video games, and apps can help us feel more connected, they can also have the opposite effect. "Humans are social animals, and we need that connection," says Martello. "If we can't get it in real life, we'll get it virtually." Nothing can replace real, in-the-flesh human relationships. For people facing a mental health behemoth like depression, human connection might just be their Epic Win.

RESOURCES

SuperBetter

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline; (800) 273-TALK


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