Category Archives: Research

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!

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!



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!


Why we enjoy blogging

Photo Credit: Mike Licht, via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Mike Licht, via Compfight cc

Oh, an empty white box. So many directions to go. Pictures to search for and embed. Quotes to highlight. Font size to choose. The possibilities are endless. You write. You imagine. You create. You read and reread. Finally with a feeling of anticipation and excitement, you hit publish and there it is – part of the stratosphere of the Internet. Will they read it? Will they comment? What will they think? Then you read and reread. You feel proud about your creation.

Science is wonderful – because recently I found an explanation for these blogging joys when preparing the discussion section for a paper on social media use. This study examined 751 students in Taiwan with blogging experiences. They used structural equation modeling to examine whether theories about self-disclosure and social capital explain why blogging seems to make us feel good. They found that by self-disclosing through blogging, this increased social integration and social capital, which in turn increased subjective well-being.

The implications for SOVA and wiseSOVA from this study are especially meaningful. Based on our current work and feedback from our recent stakeholder advisory meeting, our next research step is to encourage some of our current users who have been so integral in helping to improve the site to start writing some of the blog posts themselves. One of the goals being to increase the authenticity and community building of the site as well as putting the direction of the site into the hands of its users. Knowing it may increase their well-being and build social capital is highly motivating.

Let us know what you think about this article and about blogging!

Social Media Use and Depression: Does Cyberbullying Fit into the Equation?

Photo Credit: Vernon Barford School Library via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Vernon Barford School Library via Compfight cc

Last week we wrote an article about the increase in rates of suicide.  One of the major predictors of adolescent suicide is having depression.  Some are concerned about articles finding an association between social media use and depression, such as a recent article one of our former team members, Laura Lin, authored. This association though needs further exploration, so which comes first: depression or using social media? Or, like other things in depressed youth, are they more likely to use social media, which may be harmless to some, in a more harmful way?

An interesting study from Canada that came out this fall was looking at the relationship between cyberbullying, depression, suicide attempts, and social media use.  This study looked at a large sample of adolescents aged 11 to 20 who completed the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey in 2013.  It measured social media use by amount of time spent on social media and separated two groups from the data: users who use social media on a daily or irregular basis and non-users who do not use social media but use the Internet.  Cyberbullying victimization was defined as being bullied or picked on over the Internet in the last 12 months. The study used a mediation model to understand if cyberbullying victimization explains the relationship between social media use and psychological distress. Interestingly, they found that once you put cyberbullying victimization into the equation, the relationship between social media use and psychological distress, and social media use and suicide attempts goes away.

Untitled drawing

Some limitations include the way the authors grouped social media use  into whether someone uses it or doesn’t use it. We know most adolescents do use social media, so it might be helpful to know whether the amount of use is important.  The same author did find that the more adolescents used social media, the more they were exposed to cyberbullying. Also this was just a one-time cross sectional study so it would help to have data from more time-points. Nonetheless, studies like this help give us a clue as to what is it about social media use that might contribute to depression. We know everyone is using it so knowing how to guide young people about safe use is important. Cyberbullying is known to be correlated with suicidal ideation, self-harm, and depression in young people.

There are several resources out there to help prevent and address cyberbullying and of course there is more work to do.

Here are a few places to explore about how to counsel youth about cyberbullying with advice on being a positive bystander and how to report:


cyberbullying research center

And lastly, the best way we can teach our children is to be responsible online adults!

Thanks for listening! Please share any feedback below.



A cause worth fighting for

Recently the New York Times highlighted a study from the National Center for Health Statistics that suicide rates for all age groups are increasing in the US. NPR reported that in particular, the rates of suicide for young adolescent girls aged 10-14 tripled, which some think may be due to trends in earlier puberty. In young people, suicide is the second leading cause of death.

National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 65, No. 2, February 16, 2016
National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 65, No. 2, February 16, 2016








There are many explanations for this, and yet more research to do, especially in mental health services to best understand how to help young people with suicidal thoughts have access to life-saving treatment. We agree with Dr. Borenstein, president of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, who wrote a follow-up editorial that these numbers should be a wake-up call for the U.S. to declare a war on mental illness and increase funding for life-saving research.

I had an opportunity to hear Dr. David Brent, a renowned researcher of adolescent suicide prevention, speak at the Annual STAR (Services for Teens at Risk) Center conference. Dr. Brent spoke about preventable predictors of suicide such as child maltreatment for which several evidence-based parenting programs exist but which are not yet widely implemented. He also talked about evidence-based school programs which target impulsive aggression, treating insomnia which increases the risk of suicide 2-5 fold, and decreasing access to lethal agents such as gun control and safety. He highlighted a program at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan which provides support that implementing evidence-based interventions can decrease rates of suicide. In the case of Henry Ford, suicide rates dropped dramatically by 75% and then down to 0. 

Some key elements of their program include:

  • a stakeholder advisory panel
  • all psychotherapists being competent to provide Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • a protocol for suicidal patients to remove weapons from the home
  • increasing access to care through: same-day access and e-mail visits
  • an educational website
  • educating staff in suicide prevention
  • frequent check-ins by phone
  • and providing families and support people with mental health education

At SOVAproject, we hope to help fight these increasing rates of suicide by designing an intervention with the goal of increasing adolescent and parent engagement in treatment. We are encouraged that implementation of evidence-based methods at centers like Henry Ford, do lead to real-word decreases in suicide rates, and are encouraged to advocate for continued suicide prevention.

Read more about advocating for suicide prevention at American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

America’s Adolescents

More than 12 percent of people in the United States—almost 42 million—are between the ages of 10 and 19. The differences in age and biological sex matter when treating adolescents as maturity levels and hormones increase dramatically with age in these years and vary with biological sex as well.

The US Department of Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health has recently updated their website to include much more information in regards to how adolescents in America are changing and growing.

from: US Department of Human Services
from: US Department of Human Services

 The Changing Face of America’s Adolescents focuses on numbers of adolescents by: age and gender, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status and geographic location.

A Picture of Adolescent Health focuses on: Physical Health and Nutrition, Mental Health, Reproductive Health, Substance Abuse, Educational Attainment, and Healthy Relationships.

This break down of information is a great way to see the population we are working with and to see some current trends in their health outcomes.

from HHS: The Changing Face of America’s Adolescents

At SOVA project we primarily are focusing on mental health, and found it interesting that 30% of of high school students in 2013 had symptoms of depression. Teenagers often already feel alone in their life, and this population may feel even more alienated. Part of our goal at SOVA is to connect adolescents with each other so they see that they are not alone, and that they don’t have to feel ashamed of their illness.

from HHS: The Changing Face of America’s Adolescents

We also found it interesting that 20% of total adolescents have been bullied. Part of our social media strategy is to address positive relationships and online bullying.

Overall we’re excited that the Department of Human Services has enacted this division and that they have provided many more interesting statistics than we have here.

Tell us what you think – did you visit the website? Is this information useful or insightful to you as a clinician, researcher, or advocate? 

The Internet and Teenager Health

Dr. Ana Radovic was recently interviewed by WESA, the Pittsburgh NPR station in regards to how the internet can provide useful and sometimes not so useful health education for adolescents.

Dr. Radovic noted that given the research done by Northwestern University that 86 percent of teen respondents reported they got at least some health information from online sources.  Furthermore, many of the teens reported that they get “a lot” of information from the internet, or as Dr. Radovic called it “Doctor Google.”

She said: doctors should always keep that in mind when seeing patients, that they can provide a context for the information that the internet cannot.

As we move forward with our study, we like to keep this in mind so that we can help educate adolescents with useful, correct information, and be able to point them toward a health care professional to receive that context of information when it is needed.

You can listen to the full (6 minute) interview here on WESA’s website. 


What Parents think about Mental Health?

Recently the JED Foundation published research on parent knowledge and attitudes in regards to their children’s mental health. We were interested in this article because it directly relates to our work with the SOVA studies.

14000933079_28165ff03bThey asked parents about their knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions about stigma of accessing mental health care; they also asked their opinion about the role of colleges in mental health care. This is an important research topic we know little about and which can inform parents how to help their children, especially those with mental health problems, transition to college. It can be difficult for parents to understand what is normative in college transition versus not.  One example is many college students experience lack of sleep – how do you know if its just a fact of life in college? or a symptom of a mental illness? It’s important to know how to pick up on early signs of emotional distress that can sometimes come out during this transition.

Emotional disorders are very common in college: The health status of emerging young adults (age 18 to 26) is a major concern facing our nation. These “new adolescents”:

  • face greater behavioral and non-behavioral health risks than either adolescents aged 12-17 or young adults aged 26-34. Overall, emerging young adults have the highest rates of motor vehicle injury and death, homicide, mental health problems, sexually transmitted infections and substance abuse
  • compared to those two age groups, emerging young adults often have the lowest perception of risk and
  • this age group has the least access to care and has the highest uninsured rate in the United States (from:

Orange Desk 2.12.15Although most parents feel that they are able to identify signs of depression in their college-age children, they actually have deficits in knowledge when asked to identify symptoms of depression without prompting. “Only 3.4% of parents identified suicidal thoughts as a sign of depression and only 15% of parents were able to name more than one or two signs” (JED foundation, 2008).  Parents were least comfortable discussing mental health, especially suicidal thoughts and other health topics.

SOVA and wiseSOVA aim to increase knowledge, improve parent-adolescent communication around mental health, and connect families with available resources, including the JED foundation to promote healthy transitions!


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!