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Kids' mental health tech tools for suicide help, coping skills, and professional support

Apps, sites, and text hotlines help kids cope with issues from cyberbullying to suicide


Christine Elgersma
June 16, 2019 1:00AM (UTC)
This post originally appeared on Common Sense Media.
Common Sense Media

Growing up has never lacked challenges, but it seems today's kids are having an especially rough time. Research varies, but the number of kids with anxiety and depression is at an all-time high. Though the links among social media, tech use, and mental health issues aren't entirely clear, we do know that kids who are already struggling often come away from social media feeling worsethan they did before they scrolled through their feeds.

Of course, talking to them and getting in-person, professional help is the first and best course of action if you think your kid is struggling. But there are also ways kids can carry around sources of support -- right on their phones. Popular social media like Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and Kik Messenger offer some resources for kids while they're using the platforms. For text support, tools such as the Crisis Text Line offer immediate help. And for LGBTQ kids, who are more at risk for suicide than the general population, It Gets Better and The Trevor Project provide resources and counseling services. But kids who are feeling anxious or depressed can also turn to one or more of these apps when talking to someone in person feels overwhelming or logistically difficult, like when it's late at night.

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Depending on the kind of support your kid needs, tech tools fall into four major categories: immediate help; ongoing support; information and awareness; and positive focus. Since the apps are handling sensitive information, it's a good idea to check out each one's privacy policy. Though none can replace your love and understanding or a professional's help, they might be an added boost to get your kid through a tough time.

For immediate help

My3Though no parent wants to think about their kid feeling suicidal, it's important to talk about it if that's what's happening. This app gives kids a powerful tool for those critical moments. It includes a three-person contact list to call for help if they're in despair (911 and the National Suicide Hotline are automatically included), a self-created safety plan, and other resources. Because it was created by mental health professionals, the app uses vetted strategies to help kids avoid suicidal thoughts and suggests positive actions to take when they need more support.

Calm Harm - Manages Self HarmWhen teens feel compelled to harm themselves in times of distress, this app offers them lots of ways to derail those impulses under categories like Comfort, Distract, and Breathe. After they choose a method, they set a timer so they can move on when the urge passes. Over time, they might be able to internalize these strategies. Teens can also include a personal call list so they can reach out to someone in those moments.

For ongoing support

HappiMe for Young PeopleUsing a kid-friendly approach, this app walks kids through four steps: Learn, Recognize, Deal With Your Emotions, and Replace. It helps kids picture their thoughts as something separate from themselves -- the chimp, the computer, and the happitar -- a psychological method that allows people to deal with negative thoughts at a distance. The company offers two more versions, one for younger kids and one for adults.

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Pacifica for Stress & AnxietyCreated with mental health professionals, this app offers an array of therapeutic tools and services. Teens can set goals, schedule time each day to focus on mental health, join community forums, access a new therapist or their own (if their therapist works with the app), use guided meditations, and more.

Virtual Hope BoxThis tool uses three modes -- Remind Me, Distract Me, and Relax Me -- to help teens stay connected during stressful times. Teens can store images, such as personal photos, and activities, such as songs, quotations, and even games such as sudoku, to use when they need to. They can also meditate or use a "coping card" they've pre-created.

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For information and awareness

Mental Health Awareness for Mind, Mood & WellbeingThis app is education-focused, offering courses on topics like depression, anxiety, and anger management. Though it doesn't offer direct support, it might be a helpful resource to learn more about what kids are going through and to explore some strategies.

For a positive focus

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Apart of Me. This unique app uses a gentle adventure-game approach to tackle tough topics. By exploring a beautiful world, getting guidance from its characters, and doing periodic meditations, kids can learn about some tools for handling tough times. Apart of Me also offers audio recordings from real kids that provide a model for working through difficulties.

My Gratitude Journal. This inspirational app uses the proven method of expressing gratitude to improve mood and well-being. Every day, kids list five things they're grateful for and embellish their entries with photos and emojis.

Three Good ThingsThis teen-created app lets kids write about three positive experiences every day. They can also set a daily reminder and review old entries to remind them of their positive thoughts.

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Christine Elgersma

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