When employees from the Bridges Program first approached us here in Corporate Communications to help them develop an app for youth facing mental health issues, we were excited!
Part of the excitement was that we did not know what lay ahead of us! Teens today are highly connected, and the notion that we would harness mobile technology to reach out to youth who may be experiencing mental health issues was both thrilling and ambitious. But we believed in the idea of an app and were very excited to take on this project, unlike anything we have done before!
The counsellors from the Bridges Program, who see youth daily, believed in the power of connectedness and the inclusion an app could bring. In Corporate Communications we believed that digital media would give us a platform and opportunity to reach youth more effectively. And certainly, the Canada Post Community Foundation and the Janeway Children’s Hospital Foundation believed in the idea of this app, to the extent they provided funding of almost $70,000.
Often the hardest thing about an idea is bringing it to fruition. But through the commitment and hard work of a diverse group of individuals – clinicians, counsellors, managers, communicators, vendors, programmers, designers, animators, etc. – the app is now a reality.
On January 29, 2015 after several months in development, Eastern Health proudly launched its first health-related app, Bridge the gAPP!
Art as inspiration
When teens come to the Bridges Program, they are encouraged to express their feelings and thoughts through art. The art is then posted to the walls of the program’s waiting area. It was here the app was first envisioned.
“Youth have told us over and over that the welcoming atmosphere of the waiting room has actually lowered their anxiety and made them feel normal and accepted,” says Jeannette Piper, manager of the Bridges Program. “Building on this premise, Bridges clinicians felt compelled to share these powerful messages on a larger level.”
As a digital communications manager who has been closely involved with the development of the app, I agree. We want to let youth know that their struggles are not unique, or different, or weird. A lot of us experience anxiety, stress and loneliness. Some experience abuse and helplessness. Indeed, Bridge the gAPP is meant to create a safe and inclusive environment for teens that may be facing mental health issues, and convey the notion that it is OK to ask for help.
This sentiment is echoed by Brandon, a student from O’Donnell High School who was part of a group of teens that tested the app prior to launch. “I really like the art room. Seeing other people’s thoughts and struggles really makes me feel connected – like I’m not alone.”
The app in action
And it doesn’t stop there. Students said Bridge the gAPP will also help to educate youth about mental health. And that’s true. That’s why we included information on the issues most commonly seen by the Bridges’ clinicians. The issues below cut across all demographics, which means that youth of various backgrounds can relate to them. Topics include:
Bridge the gAPP provides a way for youth to connect not just with the mental health resources we provide, but directly with each other. Among other things, the app has a stress scale and tips from youth on how they cope, messages from supporters and a ‘Worry Jar’ section where users can share their worries and what keeps them up at night.
The teens that previewed the app certainly gave it a “thumbs-up.”
Patrick, a student from Holy Heart High School, said: “the app is varied, interactive and it lends itself to various users.”
Julia, a student from Holy Spirit High School, said she liked that the information was in bite-sizes and not intimidating at all. Some liked the brightly-coloured stress tips and others the listing of crisis and helpful phone numbers.
Olivia, from Holy Heart, said: “Some teens may not know these numbers are available, or how to get them!”
As Megan, another student said: “this app has a lot of topics that people aren’t normally aware of, and I believe that it will be useful to every teen.”
We are putting help within easy reach by placing resources and tools at youth’s fingertips – literally. We know that early intervention leads to better outcomes, and our intention is to help reduce the stigma associated with mental health, and to help prevent illness later in life.
At Eastern Health, we are delighted with the app’s reception.
Heather St. Croix, one of the clinical social workers with the Bridges Program, says she can’t believe the response. “I have had so many calls, emails and people stopping me to comment on the app!” she says. “It is fantastic!”
We recognize the app is in its infancy; as feedback continues it’s our hope that Bridge the gAPP will continue to grow and evolve and touch the lives of youth who may be struggling. For now, I would say this is a big step in the right direction.
With only two weeks in the public sphere, Bridge the gAPP has been downloaded over 1,500 times and received over 100 new ‘Worry Jar’ and art work submissions from users! Clearly even in its early days the app is doing what it was designed to do – in the hands of those it’s designed to help. ■
This story was written by Melisa Valverde, digital communications manager with Corporate Communications at Eastern Health.