All posts by Ana

Hills and Valleys

Life has all sorts of hills and valleys, and sometimes you don’t end up doing what you had your heart set out on, but sometimes that’s even better.

– Ruth Buzzi

Hi! We have not posted in a while due to some ups and downs with this site not being able to retrieve old posts including a forever missing post from last spring. But we are back and such is life, such is research on a shoestring budget!

Over the past year, our SOVA Project has had some exciting developments. We have completed recruitment for our pilot Stress and Worry Trial and are now preparing analysis and a final manuscript. We published a study in Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings describing a 6-month process we used with 3 iterative focus groups in 2 primary care practices to understand how primary care providers (PCPs) might want to introduce SOVA to their patients. Dr. Radovic presented about this project at the Pediatric PittNet Lunch and Learn in March.

Right now, our team is also involved in several exciting new projects.

Dr. Radovic is co-director of Stakeholder Engagement and an Investigator on the Screening Wizard intervention for the NIMH ALACRITY-funded ETUDES center. The ETUDES center is also providing recruitment support for a project, “MoodRing” to understand whether measuring patterns of smartphone use in adolescents with depression can predict a change in symptom level. Dr. Radovic is working together as a co-PI on this project funded by a Small Business grant with Dr. Afsaneh Doryab from University of Virginia and Mr. Sam Shaaban from NuRelm. If you and your child are interested in this study please reach out!

Dr. Radovic and colleagues from Pitt Cyber, with support from AT&T, have been looking into how to upgrade an existing cyberbullying program with new technology features to address local concerns about cyberbullying.

Most of all, we are very excited about and grateful to the Fine Foundation, LEAD Pittsburgh, and Children’s Hospital Foundation for their support of our SOVA Peer Ambassador Program. Recently we received a grant from the Beckwith Institute to continue to provide support to youth during the pandemic. Our wonderful SOVA website editor and ambassador supervisor, Sana Karim, graduated this spring with her Masters in Applied Developmental Psychology from PITT. With her leadership and the help of our 2019 summer medical student, Kimberly Lin, our abstract – Experience of Peer Bloggers using a social media website for adolescents with depression or anxiety, giving back in a safe space – was accepted to the 2020 Pediatric Academic Societies meeting (cancelled due to the pandemic). Our preliminary results show a decrease in anxiety symptoms, stigma, social isolation, and an increase in self-esteem, competence, and confidence for our amazing bloggers. We are writing up this study and hope to publish our data soon!

Please check out some of the amazing articles our blogging ambassadors have written! Here is an amazing short story about anxiety, how to recover from the anxiety of talking to a therapist, mental health and relationships, and how one young person talks about that 2020 doesn’t have to be the worst year ever.

Until next time, stay healthy and safe!

SOVA Project Updates

SOVA Project wishes you all a Happy New 2019 Year!

We have made steady progress on recruitment for the Stress and Worry study, our pilot randomized controlled trial evaluating the SOVA intervention. This month, the protocol for this trial was published in JMIR-Research Protocols. There, we describe the study design and include an appendix of all of our measures. We are already learning so much from the process of running this trial, including all the nuances of recruiting a vulnerable population for trying out a website they may be unsure about using.

Dr. Radovic recently had the opportunity to work with Dr. Megan Moreno on a patient education piece for JAMA Pediatrics.  In this article which is part of a series JAMA Pediatrics offers for patients and families, Dr. Radovic tries to normalize to parents that seeking help for depression in their teen is not an easy process, and that it is in fact, a process. Parents can benefit greatly from using a team approach for their own support from their and their child’s primary care provider as well as community mental health advocates that include parent peers.

We are grateful for our awesome team of students, research assistants, and stakeholders! Together, we are working on several projects including engaging community stakeholders, applying for future funding to expand our reach, and recruiting and onboarding SOVA peer ambassadors. If you know of a young person 14 to 26 who has had symptoms of depression and/or anxiety and may be interested in blogging for SOVA, please have them check out

Lastly, if you are available on March 28 in Pittsburgh, please consider attending this year’s Adolescent Health Symposium with featured speakers on cyberbullying, technology interventions for adolescent health, and updates on how adolescents are using technology in relation to risk taking behaviors.

Until next time, take care from the SOVA team!

SOVA Spring Updates

SOVA wishes you all a happy spring and would like to share some updates since we last posted.

We have begun recruiting for the Stress and Worry pilot randomized controlled trial and soon hope to get some preliminary information on the SOVA intervention.

We published the usability studies of SOVA in Journal of Medical Internet Research-Mental Health. Because JMIR-MH is open source, this means anyone can read the article online for free!

Our article on Depressed adolescents’ positive and negative use of social media is one of the most downloaded articles from Journal of Adolescence!

Recently, Dr. Radovic and colleague Dr. Megan Moreno co-edited a book on Technology and Adolescent Mental Health. This book features multiple leading minds in the field, summarizing the latest data and offering a balanced view on issues such as social media use in depressed teens, technology use among special populations, cyberbullying, multitasking, internet gaming disorder, and games and mental health. Each chapter finishes with a case-based example meant to help clinicians seeing adolescents for mental health concerns inquire and consider their technology use.

Dr. Radovic was also interviewed for a Washington Post article about screening for teen depression, specifically the difficulties primary care providers run into when implementing screening with teens and discussing depression with their parents.

Lastly, we are grateful to the hard work of Cassandra Long, MSW, LSW who has moved on from her role as the main SOVA research assistant to pursue her clinical career goals at the University of Pittsburgh counseling center. Also, Congrats to our graduating psychology student seniors, Lindsay Bloomingdale and Maeve Clair! Thank you to Julia Bickerstaff, Veronica Zhang, and Jennifer Matesa. Jen will be staying on as the SOVA Peer Ambassador Leader!

We hope to share more updates with you all in the summer.









“If people did not love one another, I really don’t see what use there would be in having any spring.”
― Victor HugoLes Misérables

SOVA is moving along

“Building resilience depends on the opportunities children have and the relationships they form with parents, caregivers, teachers, and friends. We can start by helping children develop four core beliefs: (1) they have some control over their lives; (2) they can learn from failure; (3) they matter as human beings; and (4) they have real strengths to rely on and share.”
― Sheryl SandbergOption B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy

Hello SOVA supporters. We are happy to update you that recruiting for SOVA blogging ambassadors is going very well! The ambassadors are really taking ownership of composing their posts and picking topics which will resonate with other readers and may help them to share their experiences too.

Here are some examples:

A review on mental health author, Jenny Lawson

The need for taking mental health days

Challenges faced by LGBT youth

Feeling supported by others sharing their stories

Since we’ve recruited SOVA ambassadors to start blogging, views of the site have gone way up – up to 2000 a month!

In other news, SOVA now has an Android app which you can download here – and an iPhone app coming out soon!

We’d like to now spend some time thinking about how to improve our site for parents,, and are seeking interested parents to provide us with feedback.

If you are or you know of a parent you think would like to talk with us about having a child (adolescent or young adult) with depression or anxiety in a focus group format, please ask them to email us at


In 2018, we look forward to beginning the pilot randomized controlled trial of the SOVA intervention – supported by funds from the National Institute of Mental Health!

Til then, have a Happy Thanksgiving and holiday season to all! SOVA is grateful for our growing team, especially our students this year – Sharanya Bandla, Maeve Clair, Lindsey Bloomingdale, Jennifer Matesa, Veronica Zhang, and Jason  Gruzin – also Jing Hua who has continued to volunteer her time and technical support. I am always extremely grateful to my mentoring network, our SOVA stakeholders and research participants, our administrative staff, and my wonderful diligent and enthusiastic research assistant, Cassandra Long. Let us all do our part to help children (and each other!) become more resilient in the face of an ever-changing but beautiful world.

SOVA Updates: First paper, Blogging and More!

“August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.”

―Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

A few updates for August!

The first paper on the SOVA intervention has been published! This paper describes how we used human computer interaction techniques and stakeholders to inform the design of the SOVA websites. Check out the abstract at the Journal of Technology in Human Services and email us if you would like a full copy.

We are recruiting SOVA Ambassadors! These are young people age 14 to 26 who are interested in blogging for the SOVA websites. They receive compensation, can add helping with a research study to a resume, and we help them with topics and editing! Also, they get to connect with each other and other youth online to provide support for depression and anxiety. We think it is a win-win!


Check out our video for more information below and if you know any young people who may be interested they can check out more info here or just email us at


SOVA Project Summer of Showing Up

At SOVA Project, we’ve really been falling in love with Brene Brown! In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene says:

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

We’ve been trying to be courageous here at SOVA Project and we hope these small efforts are helping us move forward in a positive way!

Here are some of the recent ways we’ve let ourselves be seen:

We are happy to announce that our first SOVA paper will be published soon in the Journal of Technology in Human Services!

We had a great deal of fun participating in and being interviewed for the Reel Teens of Pittsburgh’s documentary on mental health stigma, featuring the Allegheny County Department of Human Services Stand Together program – who we have really enjoyed learning more and more about this year and hope to continue to work with. It was so inspiring for us to participate in advocating for mental health in the midst of positive, insightful, and motivated young people!

If you haven’t seen it, check out the video here below and learn more about the great award-winning work Stand Together does:

This past year, we’ve welcomed several new team members, including:

Cassandra Long, LSW our new moderator and main research assistant and Sharanya Bandla our new computer student who is also an undergraduate student at University of Pittsburgh. Also over the summer, Leah Wasser is a recently graduated student from Slippery Rock who is doing an excellent summer internship with us focused on reviewing the role of the moderator in online support groups – and helping us set up and create videos for our You Tube channel!

Here is a picture of Cassandra sharing our work with attendees at the recent NAMI conference on child mental health:


Don’t forget – SOVA and wiseSOVA have public blogposts you can read and share with anyone! If a young person or parent wants to log-on to comment, that is when they enter our study which currently is just observing how often they use the site and whether or not/what they comment – so feel free to share SOVA widely!

Stay tuned for more SOVA updates in the upcoming months and let us know if you have questions or feedback for us!

Adolescents with depression on social media

Before we created the sova websites: sova for adolescents and young adults and wisesova for parents, we wanted to learn about how adolescents with depression and their parents use social media. In user design, you want to know how someone uses a technology tool currently before you try to modify it. Also, we wanted to know whether or not social media was a good strategy to use to reach young people with depression?

We definitely learned some interesting things! Recently, this work was published in the Journal of Adolescence. If you cannot access a copy, I am happy to send it to you if you email me a request.

Some of our main findings included that adolescents with depression:

  • Like using social media to search out information, for distraction, social connection, and share positive content like quotes or funny videos
  • Also use social media in some negative ways like sharing risky behaviors like sneaking out or to compare themselves with others
  • When in a bad mood some adolescents would “stress post” or share a negative thought as a status update as a way to get it off their chest or look for social support
  • Others would “overshare” or share too much personal information or mundane facts about their lives with the effect sometimes leading to cyberbullying
  • Sometimes would feel triggered by posts they would see like of pictures of self-harm

As adolescents got older and got treatment for their depression, they would also change how they used social media in a more positive way. For example, they would send a private message to a friend who had been supportive in the past – versus sending out a Twitter status on a fishing expedition to see who might notice or respond.

These adolescents had a lot of useful information to share about social media and we are happy to share their opinion and observations with the academic world by disseminating this work.  I will be talking about this work and related research at two upcoming conferences for clinicians and families:

The 2017 Annual STAR Center Conference at University of Pittsburgh May 5, 2017


The NAMI Keystone PA Mental Health and Wellness Conference in Harrisburg May 12-13, 2017

We hope you can join the SOVA team there!

A SOVA winter update

Hello all!

This week we had an excellent stakeholder advisory meeting. It really means so much to hear from teens, parents, providers, and advocates. We always get so much wonderful feedback which helps us change direction in a positive way. For example, last spring, our advisory board helped us make a big decision to open the sova and wisesova articles to the public. Now we only require a log-in for the social parts of the site: the discussion board; creating a profile; making comments on blog posts; writing blog posts; and sending a private message to the moderator.

This change resulted in a spike in site views.


The chart above is produced by Jing Hua, a graduate student in information science, who has been working with SOVA and gaining skills in data visualization through her coursework. This means now we can see how anything we do produces changes in site views, log-ins, and comments!

During this week’s meeting I shared that through our feasibility survey, we have found adolescents and young adults think sova – and parents think wisesova – are user friendly sites they enjoy using! Our next step is working on engagement – how do we get more people to find out about our sites – and how do we get them to contribute to the social community by reading, commenting, and writing blogposts themselves?

If you are interested – feel free to join our sites and share articles that you find meaningful to your social networks.

Remember for sova, you need to be 14-26 and have had symptoms of depression or anxiety (you don’t need to have a diagnosis). For wisesova, you need to have been a parent of a child who has had symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Also, please like and follow us on facebook, twitter, and instagram. We share inspiring quotes and some of our featured posts on instagram – so far we have over 75 followers.

This month I’d also like to introduce our two graduate students in social work who are working with SOVA as a field instruction site:

Danielle Washington

Danielle Picture

What are your educational aspirations?
My educational aspirations are to graduate with my MSW.  Then following that I would plan to get licensed as an LSW and LCSW.

Where do you see yourself in your career 10 years from now? I want to have worked in multiple different career paths within the social work profession; for example in a nonprofit and maybe some community organizing. But my end goal is to have my own private practice.                 What personal goals are you working toward right now? Exploring the Pittsburgh area and seeing what it has to offer.  Currently I have just been busy with school; in the near future I really want to make an effort to experience the city.                                              What do you like about the SOVA project? I like that the SOVA Project has created this safe space online to education yourself on mental health and create a supportive community.  My favorite part are the many positivity posts because I enjoy seeing inspirational quotes and phrases; you never know when one will really speak to you. What do you think are some of the barriers to the project gaining speed? Now the project just needs some more engagement.  We have to find a way to create more interaction amongst the people registered and more blogs posted from our ambassadors. I think this will come with more exposure and more recruiting to get a larger group of people interested.                                                                                                                       What do you think are some of the strengths the project already has? A major strength this project has is that it contains a lot of good content.  The post are informative, short and easily understood.  Also the team behind the project is passionate about it and it really shows in all the work that is being put in behind the scene every day.

Anna Rastatter


What are your educational aspirations?During my graduate education, I’d like to further my knowledge about vulnerable populations and ways to best serve these individuals. I am especially hoping to learn more about treatment, intervention, and advocacy for people with mental illness. I would also like to find ways to better promote the benefits of mental health and self-care. In the longer term, the plan is to obtain my Master of Social Work (MSW). After graduating, I’d like to get the two licensures required to practice therapy.                                                                               Where do you see yourself in your career 10 years from now? The dream (for now) is to be established in a clinical setting practicing therapy. After graduating, I would like to obtain my licensure to practice clinical social work. I would really like to practice therapy for late adolescents and young adults as I feel like that is a time of great uncertainty for many people, regardless of what they are doing. I also have a lot of interest in psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I’ve tossed around the idea of furthering my education beyond my masters, but if I decide to do that it might be a ways down the road.                                                                                                                                              What personal goals are you working toward right now? Right now, I am focusing on finding a balance between work and school. Graduate school can be a lot to handle, so I am trying to “practice what I preach” by prioritizing my own self-care in the midst of all the busy days. I would also like to get back into my old habits of reading and writing for my own benefit. I find this is a great outlet and I’m missing it!                                          What do you like about the SOVA project? I think the SOVA project is incredibly innovative. The type of support the project offers can be so beneficial for the individuals it aims to serve. I am also really excited about writing and creating material related to mental health, as this is a main interest of mine. I also love the new aspect of the project that promotes users being ambassadors for the site by creating posts.                           What do you think are some of the barriers to the project gaining speed? I believe the greatest barrier to the website is the level of interactivity. I would love to see the site be more interactive for its users, as I believe it could be such a good resource and community.                                                                                                                                   What do you think are some of the strengths the project already has? The most apparent strength to me is the commitment the team has to the project. I think that the team behind the SOVA project is very passionate about the site being the best resource it can be for the users. I also think that the users are the driving force for the project. Every decision the team makes is with the users in mind and I really appreciate that about the project.

Thanks for reading! A happy holiday season to you all from SOVA!

Cranberry and mandarin orange christmas fruit with cinammon and star anise spice, holly, mistletoe, ivy and snow covered fir.
Cranberry and mandarin orange christmas fruit with cinammon and star anise spice, holly, mistletoe, ivy and snow covered fir.

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.