Tag Archives: Behavioral Health


Meet Amie DiTomasso, our Moderator Supervisor. Amie is a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh in the Combined Public Health/Social Work program. She is also a certified yoga instructor. Her main interests include: working with adolescents and young adults, promoting positive health, playing the guitar, and teaching or practicing hot vinyasa yoga.

We interviewed Amie to find out a little more about her as well as gain some insight about our project.

Amie Face

What are your educational aspirations? 

Right now I am very focused on completing my dual master’s program in Public Health and Social Work at Pitt. I am currently working on draft two of my master’s thesis! I plan to graduate in August and jump right into work. Longer term, I aspire to achieve a Ph.D. in Public Health.

In addition to my academic aspirations, I hope to continue my yoga certifications. Right now I am a registered yoga teacher (RYT) in a 200 hour program. I would love to complete my 500 hour certification in the future.

Where do you see yourself in your career 10 years from now?

            Ten years from now I hope to have completed my Ph.D. and would like to be jointly working in the non-profit and academic sectors. I want to design, implement, and evaluate healthy lifestyle programs (especially geared towards positive reproductive sexual health) for adolescents. I would love to teach part-time for undergraduate or graduate level students who are interested in community and clinical research. In addition, I hope to create and evaluate a combined behavioral health and yoga therapy program geared towards helping young women who have experienced interpersonal violence.

What personal goals are you working toward right now?

            Well, not long agAmie Yogao I was working on a stable handstand yoga practice! Recently however, I needed surgery on my foot and am currently focused on healing (it is important to listen to your body!). I’ve also been working on singing while playing the guitar which, in my opinion, is very challenging but a lot of fun!

What do you like about the SOVA project?

            I love the overarching goals of the SOVA project! I think creating a safe online community for young people is SO important! There is so much information out there and it can be so tough to sort through all of it. I think SOVA is doing a fantastic job at posting accurate, useful, and relatable information. I really like that SOVA encourages users to get involved through blogging and commenting and that SOVA welcomes all feedback, positive or negative!

What do you think are some of the barriers to the project gaining speed?

            It can be tough to put yourself out there and share your experiences with others. I think it’s challenging to get SOVA and WiseSOVA members to engage with each other, but it’s helpful to remember these are sites that promote peer support! On the backend there is so much hard work that goes into every little detail, once the SOVA team works out some of those tiny details (or kinks) I believe the project can soar!

What do you think are some of the strengths the project already has?

First off, I think the SOVA team is superb! Our team members have a variety of backgrounds and experiences that we can use to share and learn from one another. I think a major project strength is the usability of the website and the continued efforts to make improvements. The project has the ability to reach people from all over the place and is such a great resource for young people and even parents. In addition, the project already has a number of all-star users who regularly engage with the site and the team. I am very excited to be a part of this project and can’t wait to hear from you!


Crisis Text Line

A year ago we posted about the development of the Crisis Text Line and how it’s a transformative tool for people to be able to text someone when they are in crisis. Since the Crisis Text Line’s inception, they have had 16,185,952 messages exchanged since August 1, 2013.

Which, as Nancy Lublin notes in her TED talk:

“That’s the volume, velocity and variety to provide a really juicy corpus. We can do things like predictive work. We can do all kinds of conclusions and learnings from that data set.So we can be better, and the world can be better.” 

Furthermore, CrisisTrends.org has been launched to share ALL THIS DATA with us! Crisis Trends aims to empower journalists, researchers, and citizens to understand the crises Americans face so we can work together to prevent future crises from happening. From the TED talk:

“This data is also making the world better because I’m sitting on the world’s first map of real-time crises.Think about it: those 6.5 million messages, auto-tagging through natural language processes, all of these data points — I can tell you that the worst day of the week for eating disorders: Monday. The worst time of day for substance abuse: 5am. And that Montana is a beautiful place to visit but you do not want to live there, because it is the number one state for suicidal ideation.”

From: CrisisTrends.org
From: CrisisTrends.org

With this information, we can know when people are most affected by certain mental health issues, and we can create better interventions.

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!



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? 

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: usc.edu)

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!


Team Spotlight: Kripa Venkatakrishnan

Meet Kripa Venkatakrishnan, our new Research Assistant. Kripa is an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Molecular Biology with a focus on cell and developmental biology. With an interest in making healthcare more accessible to the under-served populations of the world. We interviewed Kripa to find out a little more about her as well as gain some insight about our project.



What are your educational aspirations? 

I’m currently in between two career paths (although they’re closely related in some aspects). For the longest time I’ve always thought and had the desire to go to medical school and become a doctor (in pediatrics or oncology), however, I’ve recently been exposed to a lot of public health issues/cases and it’s really been peaking my interest. I believe that I would also be very happy to pursue a Master’s in Public Health as well. 

Where do you see yourself in your career 10 years from now?

I can see myself either getting through med school or continuing with clinical public health research. I could also see myself travelling around the world or trying to do something spontaneous like that. 

What personal goals are you working toward right now?

Academically, I really wanted to get involved in some psychological and behavioral research projects (which SOVA is clearly perfect for) and witness as many types of research as I can.  Also, my mom and my dad speak 4 different languages and I’m trying to catch up to them and learn as many more as I can. 

What do you like about the SOVA project?

I think the tie that SOVA makes with social media and depression/anxiety is very interesting and unique in comparison to research studies that I have previously been exposed to. It is more than well known that social media is playing a greater part in our lives by the day, and I think creating a forum where users and moderators can channel social media in a way that’s productive and healthy is very progressive and clever, especially when this forum can eventually be proven to drive positive results. But in addition to just that, the SOVA project hits very close to home for me as I once was an adolescent who also faced depression and anxiety. Helping others to not feel the same way I felt or lessen the duration of their struggles is the one of most driving feelings for me and is what makes me like the SOVA project so much.

What do you think are some of the barriers to the project gaining speed?

I definitely think that the biggest barrier would be the marketing of the project to the participants, but on that same note it’s definitely far from impossible. What I believe to be the biggest hurdle for participants is the initial decision to try it out especially at a time in their lives when motivation may be low. However, I think that once that is overcome, participants will realize how much SOVA has to offer to the quality of their life. It’s always just that initial pitch. 

What do you think are some of the strengths the project already has?

The first time I first went onto the SOVA website, I could immediately tell that it was already very established, organized, and up to date which is great from a usability standpoint. But in addition to that, coming into my first day of work, meeting everyone and seeing how supportive, motivated, and committed everyone was, really made the biggest positive impact on me (at least from an outsider’s perspective). I think that the passion that everyone exudes will always be one of the biggest strengths that SOVA will have especially with the nature of the research it’s exploring and I think everyone has so much to offer! 



Team Spotlight: Kaitlin Glover

Meet Katilin Glover, one of our Master of Social Work graduate interns.  We interviewed Katilin to find out a little more about her as well as gain some insight about our project.


What are your educational aspirations?

I am working on my Master’s in Social Work with a certificate in mental health. Someday, I would also like to enter a doctoral program. I am interesting in working with young children or adolescents in the mental health field. I am also interested in research about the LGBTQ community and how it affects mental health.

Where do you see yourself in your career 10 years from now?

I see myself having a job in the field of research or clinical populations. I also will hopefully be close to receiving my doctorate. One of my main goals is to move to North Carolina after graduating because I love the weather!

What personal goals are you working toward right now?

I’m working on graduating with my MSW. I am also in the process of converting to a more active and healthy lifestyle by running 4 miles a day, lifting, and eating better foods!

What do you like about the SOVA project?

I think it’s awesome that we are trying to create an online community. There are so many barriers for treatment and by creating an online environment we can increase the avenues to access greatly. I love the idea of people being able to communicate with others who are feeling just like them, with just the click of a button.

What do you think are some of the barriers to the project gaining speed?

I think with any new project starting out, it’s hard to find the first few individuals that are going to use the site. I have confidence that it will pick up tremendously once people get to know navigating the website and feel comfortable sharing personal experiences anonymously.

What do you think are some of the strengths the project already has?

The SOVA research team is such an awesome and motivated group of people! It really makes working on this project enjoyable and exciting. The SOVA and WISESOVA pages are also very user friendly. The information is very interesting and I can see it helping a lot of people!

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.