Category Archives: Noteworthy Initiatives

The Super Power of Empathy

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.

In this short animated video she explains the four qualities of empathy: perspective taking, staying out of judgement, recognizing emotion in other people, and communicating that emotion. She goes on to explain, very concisely, how to implement them.

Using empathy is incredibly important in the work we are doing with the SOVA project. While our feasibility study is in full swing, we are seeing comments and connection with our websites. As providers we remain cognizant of our clients needs and emotions as they open up to us.

We recently shared this video on our project websites – what do you think? Did Dr Brown hit the nail on the head? Tell us what you think in the comments!



Internet Interventions in Behavioral Health

eHealth Seminar on eHealth Interventions in Behavioral Health with Dr. Lee M. Ritterband, Ph. D. from the University of Virginia

Dr. Ritterband recently did a short lecture at the University of Pittsburgh on how the internet has helped change the way we can help people. It’s amazing how much the internet has changed over the past 20 years and how much it has transformed our lives.

Lee M. Ritterband, Ph. D. Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences

By using proven Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques Dr. Ritterbrand’s team has developed a large number of online programs that are highly structured, semi-self-guided, interactive and tailored to the user for a number of conditions. These websites include: UCanPoopToo, for pediatric encopresis; SHUTi, for insomnia; and BGAT, for blood sugar monitoring, among others. His lecture was very informative and shed some light onto topics I hadn’t yet considered while doing Internet Interventions.

I was excited to learn so much about Internet Interventions because of the work we do on the SOVA project.  I hope that we can carry some of the information we learned from Dr. Ritterband into the work we do here so that we can Support Our Valued Adolescents!

Halloween and Mental Illness Stigma


Photo Credit: ms.Tea via Compfight cc

First of all we here at SOVA want to say “Happy Halloween!”, and we hope everyone has a safe and fun weekend.

Unfortunately with each year comes stigmatizing and hurtful costumes. Mental illness is not a Halloween costume, in fact with 18% of the population suffering from anxiety, and 17% from depression it is a common experience and hardly something that should be portrayed as “scary”, especially since evidence has shown those with mental illness are no more violent than those without mental illness. 

At SOVA we want to reduce the stigma that adolescents facing mental illness encounter in order to receive treatment they need. Can you imagine what it must be like for an adolescent to see their friends dressed up as “Gone Mental”, for example?  Adolescents need to see positive examples of experiences and treatment with mental illness and the earlier they seek treatment the better their outcomes are likely to be.  Attitudes and stigma saying that these kind of costumes are acceptable are what may prevent some teens from getting needed treatment.

I found this guardian article to provide some truthful insight into this frustrating issue.  How do they suggest you create a accurate mental illness costume for Halloween?:

For Depression:

To dress like someone with serious depression, just wear your normal clothes. But you should take several hours to put them on due to a chronic low mood and almost complete lack of motivation. It may be hard to replicate this sensation if you don’t actually have depression, so try wearing a rucksack filled with anvils and bowling balls to get a sense of the effort required to do the most basic task.

For Anxiety:

To dress like someone with serious anxiety, just wear your normal clothes. But you should be fearful of how people will react to your clothes, for no discernible reason.You should be constantly afraid and on edge, for no discernible reason. Occasionally, you should be so overwhelmed by inexplicable fear that it becomes incapacitating. You may try to offset this unreasonable fear by feeling compelled to perform constant repetitive actions which feel as though they help despite there being no real logical justification for this. You shouldn’t stop thinking about them though.

Most importantly the article concludes:

You may think that the “costumes” described here don’t sound at all enjoyable, making it seem like serious mental illness is no fun at all.

Yes. Funny how that works.

If possible, please speak up this Halloween season if you see anyone wearing an offensive costume.

If you are interested in reaching out to companies selling these costumes, Mental Health America has some great information on who to contact.

Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art

VGQOCW85M2 (1)Photo: Stocksnap creative commons

Two weeks ago SOVA was excited and honored to share a little bit of our project during the Health 2.0 event titled “Behavioral Health and Disruptive Technology Innovations” organized by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and Contemporary Craft.  What a great opportunity! We were so lucky to be able to learn about other behavioral health technology innovations and able to meet and learn about a number of different agencies and individuals doing such amazing work in behavioral health right here in Pittsburgh.

This event was held around an exhibition currently on display at Contemporary Craft in the Pittsburgh Strip District called “Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art”. This free (yes, free!) exhibition is a must-see for any local Allegheny county residents. From the website, the project describes this experience:

Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art explores the impact that mental illness is having on society, and the role the arts can play to both encourage positive self-expression and guide effective mental health promotion and treatment. Mindful examines creative responses to mental health conditions through the inclusion of artworks made by artists who have been diagnosed with or affected by mental illness.

This exhibition will be on until March 12, 2016 at Contemporary Craft in the strip district of Pittsburgh (2100 Smallman St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222), and can be seen  Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm.  But this is worth checking out sooner rather than later!

At SOVA we  know stigma and isolation are just some of the barriers those with mental illness face to getting the treatment they deserve, and creativity is one great way to break down and explore these barriers and encourage self-expression.  We immediately felt connected with this Mindful Project, as we also have a mission  break down barriers of isolation and stigma through peer connections and factual mental health information on our moderated social media websites. We look forward to continuing to learn and grow from other innovative behavioral health innovations as well as creative projects such as Mindful.


National Suicide Prevention Week



Did you know?

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24
  • Every day there is an average of over 5,400 suicide attempts by adolescents in grades 7-12
  • It has been found that four out of five people had shown  warning signs before committing suicide

National Suicide Prevention Week was formed to raise awareness and advocate for these alarming statistics, and corresponds with a global effort.  This year the national dates are September 6th- 12th.

Here are some national campaigns you can take part in to show support for preventing:

Sources: AFSP,  Jason Foundation

Using Crowdsourcing in Online Social Networks to Combat Depression

Greetings, Friends!

WIRED Magazine recently published an article that discusses MIT’s Robert Morris and his unique and exciting research on crowdsourcing  a peer-to-peer cognitive reappraisal platform.  Similar to SOVA, Morris’s project is aimed at improving the mental health of those struggling with depression by using a web-based intervention.  The intervention, Panoply, is an interactive platform that relies on evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy as a means to reframe and reassess negative thoughts.  Panoply provides an electronic platform for posting content, responding to others, and receiving responses.  On the front end, users can use this as a tool in their cognitive behavioral therapy.  On the back end, Mechanical Turk provides sincere, human-based interactions.  Looking ahead, Morris and his start-up team at Koko are currently working toward developing Panoply into a consumer app.

Do any of you already know of research using Mechanical Turk or other crowdsourcing measures to reach end users?  What do you think about Robert Morris’s research?  Is there anything you think the SOVA team can learn from what he has done?

We want to know your thoughts!

Texting as a Tool: Creative Interventions

Hi Everyone!

We wanted to follow up on one of our posts last month, Texting That Saves Lives.  Just to recap, Nancy Lublin did a fabulous job at showcasing texting as a powerful tool to reach adolescents struggling with depression.  Recently, NPR published a related article that discusses using texting as a public health intervention.  The article below provides insight on how a pilot program, NYC Teen Text, will use texting as a tool to design a creative intervention to implement at 10 New York public high schools.  Let us know your thoughts!  Are any of you currently using texting to reach adolescents with depression?  Are the methods similar or different?  We want to hear from you!

2015 White House Student Film Festival

Happy Spring, Folks!

We wanted to tell you about an awesome project that came out of the White House earlier this month.  Last week, President Obama and his staff unrolled the Student Film Festival to showcase videos illustrating the impact  of giving back through the eyes of teens around the nation.  Students around the country have used this opportunity as a venue to exercise their creative energy and inspire those around them.  Please tune in to witness a truly moving glimpse into the overlooked reality of students living in this country today.


Texting That Saves Lives: Nancy Lublin’s fascinating Ted Talk on the incredible power of texting

Check out Nancy Lublin’s TED Talk on the incredible power of using texting to collect real-time behavioral data from teens.  Nancy discusses the prevalence of texting among teens, noting that not only are 3000-4000 text messages sent a month, but those texts are opened 100% of the time.  She tells the story of why and how a crisis text line was created for teens, and discusses the success has had with texting over emailing.  Nancy suggests we all start seriously considering this powerful tool when communicating with young adults and teens struggling from depression.