News and Updates


Last weekend, I was invited by the American Academy of Pediatrics of Montana to give a talk about screening for depression and what to do when teens or their parents are not interested in starting treatment. I had never been there and as you can tell by the pictures, the scenery was beautiful. Although as we wrote about on SOVA, nature can be helpful to cope with depression, but unfortunately, Montana has some of the highest rates of suicide in the U.S.

Some think this may be partly due to social isolation and having a hard time finding mental health resources. We hope that sites like and can be useful places where depressed adolescents and their parents can find not only education about mental health and resources – but also a supportive community to connect with, no matter where they are from.

Recently some of our more active parent users have provided some very insightful comments about how parenting adolescents in general can be so complex and fluctuant. We think by normalizing the challenges all parents experience raising a young person while also trying to help themselves and their child stay mentally well, parents can better accept whatever situation they are in and be ready to accept help offered to them or look for appropriate supports.

I will leave us with this quote by someone who thoroughly enjoyed nature and used it to leave us with meaningful guidance:

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

Henry David Thoreau

TEAM SPOTLIGHT: Lauren Johnson

LaurenMeet Lauren Johnson, the newest SOVA team member: Research Assistant and Main Moderator.  Lauren is a graduate of California University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Social Work.  Her main interests include: social activism, traveling, and attempting to learn new languages.

We interviewed Lauren to find out a little more about her as well as gain insight about our project.

What are your educational aspirations?

As of right now, I am focused on gaining work experience and building a career.  My aspiration would be to use my educational background to try to make the world a better place in some small way.  I have spent the better part of my life in a classroom, and now is the time to take everything that I have learned and put it to use in the “real world.”

Despite having no immediate plans to continue my education, I would like to take several Swahili classes, to become more familiar with the language.

Where do you see yourself in your career 10 years from now?

Ten years from now I would like to own my own business, possibly a non-profit, and continue to fight for social justice.  Ideally I would love a job that would allow me to directly impact my local community, while also attempting to affect positive social change on a global scale as well.  I would love to be work to address health disparities that exist for so much of the world’s population.

What personal goals are you working toward right now?

Right now I am attempting to teach myself Swahili.  I have a limited working knowledge of the language, but I would ultimately like to become fluent one day.

swahili quote

I have also been focused on remembering the importance of self-care.  Life can become chaotic and overwhelming, but every day I try to do something for myself. I have recently begun meditating, which greatly contributes to my self-care.

What do you like about the SOVA project?

I love the idea of engaging people and bringing them together through an online platform.  I think that the SOVA project is an innovative idea and could positively impact on so many people.  I am a firm believer that in order to help people you have to meet them where they are at, and the SOVA project does a fantastic job of this.

What do you think are some of the barriers to the project gaining speed?

I believe the greatest barrier to getting the project to gain speed would be the registered users not logging on, reading, and commenting on a regular basis.  If every registered user for the website commented at least once a month, the website would see a lot more traffic and an online community could really begin to take shape.

What do you think are some of the strengths the project already has?

Just like the greatest barrier, I believe the greatest strength of the SOVA project would be the registered users.  There are several users that regularly log on and comment on the various blog posts.  Due to the number of registered users, it is proof that there is a need for an intervention of this type.  The users are the backbone of the SOVA project and are the ones that create that online supportive community.

Users can blog too!

We are excited to announce the next step in SOVA. We are recruiting users to become SOVA (adolescent site) or wiseSOVA (parent site) ambassadors! This means that we will ask them to try to write a blogpost each month and comment at least once a week.

Our hope is that this new phase will grow site engagement and that the bloggers themselves will experience benefits from blogging!

In an earlier summer post, we wrote about a recent study on the benefits of blogging and why we enjoy it so much.  We are hoping our new bloggers will enjoy it as well!

Remember, if you know a young person with symptoms of depression or anxiety – or a parent who has had a child with these symptoms – who may be interested in blogging, please let them know about sovaproject! They can click register on or and start interacting!



AFSP walk

Hi everyone,

Thanks so much for helping us fundraise for the AFSP walk! We raised over $1000!



Don’t forget – next week is Suicide Prevention Week. What can you do?

You can: sign a pledge to show others you are a safe person to talk to about suicide and mental health

You can share this link through social media:

You can: add a twibbon to your social media

Use the hashtag  #NSPW16 to post about the importance of suicide prevention

Post a personal video to share with huffington post outspeak

Learn more about suicide prevention from NAMI

Take the stigma free pledge

Learn more about the risk factors for suicide

If you know of others, let us know below!

Support SOVA in Suicide Prevention

Hi SOVA stakeholders!

We are reposting this today in an effort to reach our fundraising goal! Please give at least $5 if you can – every little bit counts. Even $25 funds a suicide loss survivor attending their local International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day (ISOSL) event.

On August 27th, our team will be participating in the Out of Darkness Walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Funds raised by this walk go to funding suicide prevention advocacy, research like how risks in LGBT populations differ,  educational resources to prevent suicide in specific communities such as physicians and medical students, as well as resources and peer support for those affected by suicide.

Please donate and help us make a difference! If you are interested in joining our team, feel free to sign up! Thank you!

Summer Research Student Day 2016

Yesterday was the 2016 Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC Summer Student Research Poster Day. Our summer students, Amie and Anh presented their posters on the SOVA Project.

Amie spent this summer working  hard on engaging youth and parents to check out the sites, comment, and get more involved. For her poster, she looked at whether use of the site increased with some of her strategies, like doing a pet photo contest!

Anh examined our baseline data on adolescents and young adults who were involved in giving us feedback on the SOVA sites. She was specifically interested to see if characteristics of positive youth development, such as caring, correlated with depression severity.

We thank them for their awesome work and enthusiasm this summer and wish them the best of luck!



Apps for Mental Health

I’m excited to share some of our recent work with you regarding evaluating smartphone applications for mental health.

Our article published in this month’s edition of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking examines a group of popular mental health apps and characterizes them, based on their app store descriptions. We looked at what the purpose of these apps seemed to be for: were they for symptom relief or just education, for example? Also we wanted to know did they seem to cover the bases regarding what types of mental health information would be important for mental health app consumers – like letting consumers know whether the app is evidence based or whether it protects their privacy. Like others in the field, we think it is important for clinicians to talk to their patients about what apps they might be using for their mental health. And to sit down together to look into whether the app is actually helpful or not.

This article on talks about the multiple stakeholders involved in developing mental health apps and how their views on the best approach may differ. This is why sometimes the individual may need to do some more work on their end before knowing whether an app will be useful to them.

On sova and wisesova, each Friday we post about online resources. Recently we highlighted This is a site which uses patient reviews to help others decide whether to try out an app or not.  We also asked our online communities on sova to try out apps and let others know if they found them useful.

Of course, there is much more to ask about and learn on this topic, and we hope our recent article is a conversation-starter!

Bringing research into practice

This post was written by Ashley Seiler, MSW candidate.

We recently wrote an article on SOVA and on wiseSOVA that explained a study on co-rumination and it turned out to be a very relatable topic for both our adolescents and parents! Since co-rumination is such an easy pattern to fall into, it seems like a natural way to cope with our problems. However, this study pointed out the negative impacts of co-rumination, such as not developing effective coping skills or problem solving thinking. Both the parents and youth found this article to be very interesting and we had comments on both of our websites.

This is a good example of a way to bring research into practice.  On the SOVA websites, some posts attempt to translate the research data into information that can be easily digested by adolescents and parents.  In the clinic, a behavioral health clinician or medical provider may notice that a patient and their parent  both seem to be focusing on only one negative topic and decide to talk to them separately about the issue. This can help facilitate independent problem-solving to work towards finding a solution instead of dwelling on the negativity of the situation. Then you can revisit the topic together to make a plan. This can also help to empower our adolescent patients to take ownership of their health care.

If you have any thoughts on the article, let us know in the comments below!



Photo Credit: via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: via Compfight cc

This week, we thought it might be interesting to share some of the feedback we are getting from users and how this is informing changes we are making to the sova sites.

Last year, Theresa wrote and then recently reposted a brief overview of all the different types of helping professionals who can help to treat mental illness called, “What do all these letters mean?” – referring to the post-nominal letters after a professional’s name like PhD.

We received several comments on that article letting us know it was helpful but that young people especially wanted to know more information and details. Our new research assistant, Amie, set to work. At first she created a table which looked great on word but blurry in wordpress. We have started using piktochart, an infographic design app, for a newsletter we send out to research participants. We thought – why not try making a more interesting looking infographic instead of a table? Infographics look great and seem to be more engaging, grabbing a user’s attention in a fun way. Although as Amie will tell you, they do require some time and perseverance!

These articles were published yesterday on sova and wisesova with the infographics.

What do you think? Feel free to comment below or email us! We value you this group as our stakeholders and welcome any advice! Thank you!

Supporting Our Valued Adolescents