Category Archives: Fun

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!

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!

Project Uplift

Last week when we attended the  NAMI Southwestern PA Annual Education Conference. One of the speakers was Zach Valenti. Zach is a filmmaker, Voice Actor, and Mental Health Activist who believes that the power of communication and mindfulness are life changing.

While an undergraduate, Zach studied film and what makes people “care” in a film setting. He used these skills and tools to interact with his fellow students at organized events and created a carnival around mental health awareness. He found that adding an element of fun, meeting people where they are and engaging naturally was the best way to reframe conversations around mental health.

He started Project Uplift in 2013 as a way to “gamify” stress reduction through a neurofeedback installation piece. He wanted to make mental health fun, and not a chore. Here’s his TEDx talk about how he came up with the idea for Project Uplift.

One thing Zach announced at the NAMI conference was that Project Uplift is Open Source – free for anyone to get the plans to make their own Uplift Tower. By wearing a headset and being guided through a simple breathing exercise, when the wearer relaxes, the brainwaves trigger the fan to lift up a globe themed beach ball. By going within and uplifting themselves, they are lifting up the world.

Zach’s speech reminded us that burnout is a real issue and that leadership starts with self-care.  We think that Project Uplift is a great initiative and we’re excited to share it with you!

NAMI Conference

This past Saturday a few people from our team went to the NAMI Southwestern PA Annual Education Conference! We took the SOVA FullSizeRenderproject with us! We had a table where we shared materials, talked about our project and made a lot of connections with other groups and individuals in Southwestern Pennsylvania. We hope that by spreading the word about our research study that we can get more youth and parents involved in developing this supportive online community!

At the conference we heard from many different speakers and IMG_0011panels about early onset psychosis, mental health and self care, and doing advocacy work! Be on the lookout over the next few weeks as we give you an update about what we learned!



Presenting for the first time ever, the SOVAProject Video!

Have you heard about the PInCh award? This year the University of Pittsburgh is sponsoring its 4th innovation challenge. During Round 1, teams are asked to submit a 2 minute video to:

  1. define a vital health problem
  2. propose a bold solution
  3. introduce our team members

This was tricky! but we managed to put it all together. My favorite part of this video is the clips of all of our wonderful team members – I am very proud and grateful for you all! This year Katrina has done an excellent job maintaining the SOVAproject blog to keep our stakeholders up to date with our progress and with interesting news about mental health in adolescents and technology.

Check it out below and let us know if you have any feedback! Wish us luck!



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!