The youth mental health crisis was dire before the pandemic, but it has only been exacerbated over the last two years, especially among girls and young women. In fact, although suicide dropped from the CDC’s list of 10 leading causes of death in 2020, it remains the second-leading cause of death among young people.
After noticing an alarming amount of young people, most of whom are female, expressing thoughts of despair and suicidal ideation on his platform, Brent Franson, CEO and founder of mental health app Most Days, reached out to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. From there, a partnership was born. The collaboration, announced May 18, marks AFSP’s first foray into the mental health app space.
Most Days, based in San Francisco, provides its users with routines to better manage their mental health within the context of daily life. The app also gives users a sense of community and peer support by allowing them to interact with other people who could be going through similar situations. Half of its users are under age 25, and 85 percent are female.
Franson contacted AFSP in September to get a better idea of best practices that would be appropriate to help Most Days users, who he said were reporting “really high rates” of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. He said these mental health problems have a connection to the increased amount of time young people are spending on social media, and the predicament has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
So far, Most Day’s collaboration has resulted in AFSP experts developing four routines for Most Days users. They focus on the following user populations: those struggling with thoughts of self harm or suicide, those healing after a suicide attempt, those supporting a family member or friend who has thoughts of suicide, and those grieving the loss of a family member or friend who has died by suicide.
The routines were created by Dr. Doreen Marshall, the foundation’s vice president of mission engagement. She said the routines are not only a tool for users to better navigate their lives between treatment appointments, but also to help them self-report more accurately.
“When we’re in a depression, it can be really hard for us to convey our day-to-day habits to professionals,” Dr. Marshall said. “Technology can help us track these habits, and it then makes it much easier to have a dialogue with a mental health provider about our mental health.”
The aim of suicide prevention work is to address mental health problems before the evolve into a suicidal crisis, according to Dr. Marshall. Franson agreed and said paying attention to daily habits can go a long way when it comes to maintaining personal mental health. That idea is how his startup got its name.
“I grew up around a lot of addiction and suicide,” he said. “And one thing that was really clear to me was the things that people were doing or not doing most days were the things that mattered most for the quality of their life.”
Most Days’ routines provide users with healthy behaviors to model. For example, the app encourages those healing from a suicide attempt to take their medication on time, write down three reasons for living daily and develop a suicide safety plan. The tasks included in the routine for those supporting a loved one who is struggling with thoughts of self harm or suicide include checking in with the person they’re concerned about and listening without judgment.
Through its routines, Most Days empowers users to improve the quality of their lives by changing their behavior. The platform ensures its routines are developed by clinical mental health experts — mainly psychologists and neuroscientists — so users have effective tools to maintain healthy habits. Some of the app’s other routine creators include Dr. Brittany Blair, a clinical psychologist at Stanford Medicine, and Dr. Alex Korb, a neuroscientist at UCLA.
“I’m a really firm believer that technology can help people help one another,” Franson said. “That’s largely what Most Days is doing: saying, ‘Hey, here’s a set of things that experts have told us work related to your specific issues and here’s a set of tools that really helps you connect with other people to support one another in sharing information and making those changes in your life.’”
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