It’s ok, there are things that can help

As a fellow talking to my mentor Liz about starting a social media site intervention for teens, I thought I was being a little too risky; but a great mentor will let you take risks and so I did. What I found was a world of possibilities. Technology makes so many tools available and a large community of coders and designers young and old are clicking keys on their laptops making ideas real.

My cousin is one of these amazing people. I talked to him about struggling to convince young people that treatment for depression or anxiety is helpful – and wishing they could talk to each other and see that they are not alone; and that there are so many similarities between them; and that those of them who got treatment usually wish they could tell their younger self “it’s ok, there are things that can help.”

My cousin and people like him can listen to a problem and knowing the possibilities of networking technology can offer a solution to it.

“What if they could meet in a virtual group and be anonymous, but still get to hear each other out?” he said.

Then he introduced me to websites offering tools to build your own social media site. Wow! I thought only large companies were capable of doing something like this. And so an idea found a potential solution and started to become real! Later on I met with Bruce Rollman who works with internet support groups and online cognitive behavioral therapy. He introduced me to the versatility of using WordPress and to the user community that supports and updates it to have social media capabilities.

So now I had to come up with a name for this thing! As some of you may know, I was born in Serbia, and boy, Serbs are pretty proud of their heritage! In research, acronyms are “the thing.” 🙂 And  I thought “hmm, maybe I could pick a Serbian animal as the name? It had to stand for something. I was perplexed, “what would I name this? Depression help for teens? Hmm…” I really didn’t want to use mental health terms; yes because of stigma, but also because I felt every time someone accessed this site, they should feel good about themselves.  Not negatively as if that they had a defect they were coming to the site to fix. In adolescent medicine, we have made an amazing new shift from thinking about all of the negative risk behaviors adolescents can be involved with to thinking about the adolescents’ strengths and how can we help adolescents reach their goals. This shift helps me see my adolescent patients in a new light.  When they walk in the office door, I think “What is special about you? What are your goals?” instead of, “What kind of trouble did you get yourself into?”



Back to the name of Serbian animal for the site! and luckily my brother was there to help. No American yet has been able to pronounce his name correctly he was sure to point out that it had to be easily pronouncable. I was pulling my hair out until he thought of “sova” which means owl. Cool name. And bonus! People could pronounce this. And I could make a strengths based acronym, “Supporting Our Valued Adolescents.”  But what about the meaning of sova or owl?  In Native American culture, owls are believed to have wisdom due to being able to see at night and being able to foretell the weather.  And what is wisdom? It is experience combined with knowledge.  Without having first-hand experience with symptoms of a mental health problem and how to cope with it, all of the knowledge gained from books is not as useful. Because mental health is so individual, as a physician hearing so many human stories every day, I see how much of it is also a shared human experience.

The aim of Sova is not only to share knowledge, but to share wisdom

  • young people to share wisdom with each other
  • parents to share wisdom with each other
  • and young people and their parents to improve communication so they can both share wisdom with each other

In retrospect, Sova was how it all started and coincidentally that’s the nickname my cousin uses for himself, probably because no one can pronounce his name either. Go figure!


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