Tackling America’s Youth Mental Health Crisis

K-12 schools have a big role to play to help reverse the alarming declines in youth mental health & wellbeing

Youth mental health crisis

Our nation is facing a youth mental health crisis, and it started well before the pandemic. The mental health of America’s youth has been declining for nearly a decade. Depression rates surged +61% among 12-25 year-olds between 2011-2017 (Journal of Abnormal Psychology). Youth anxiety and suicide rates are way up too.

Teachers are on the front-lines of our youth mental health crisis. They see the impact in their students’ lives nearly every day.

K-12 schools are important allies to help reverse the declines in youth mental health and wellbeing. Educators have the reach and influence to proactively equip students with skills and resources that increase resilience, mental health and social emotional learning. At SuperBetter, we are working to empower their success.

The pandemic is compounding the youth mental health crisis

The stress and trauma created by the pandemic over the past year added to the mental health burdens on our nation’s youth. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America 2020 – A National Mental Health Crisis reports youth age 13-23 experiencing unprecedented uncertainty, elevated stress and more symptoms of depression. The stressors of the pandemic are widespread and especially heightened for youth of color and LGBTQ+ youth.

Pandemic burden on youth mental health

A case for proactively building skills & resources

Tackling America’s youth mental health crisis requires a focus on treatment and prevention.

For treatment, access to mental health care is a major challenge in the healthcare industry. Even before the pandemic only about half (51%) of youth age 6-17 with a mental health condition received treatment in a given year. Improving access to mental health care is a high priority. In parallel we need preventive efforts that work upstream of the problem and reduce the onset of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.

Preventing the onset of mental health conditions early in life is a smart strategy regardless of whether we’re in the midst of a crisis. Unlike diseases of aging, mental health conditions often start early in life. According to NAMI, 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.

The education sector is an obvious ally to implement a prevention strategy to improve youth mental health and wellbeing. Front-line educators have tremendous influence on their students’ lives. Teachers have competencies, access and motive to help students proactively build skills and resources to thrive. These skills and resources may fall under strategies for social emotional learning, student resilience and/or mental health literacy.

Nearly all teachers recognize that developing social emotional skills will also increase student success. In a recent Rand Study 90% of elementary and secondary school teachers agreed that promoting social emotional learning would help to improve students’ academic achievement.

Teachers are generally confident in their ability to improve students’ social and emotional competencies, but they need effective and engaging tools to support their efforts.

An evidence-based tool to impact the youth mental health crisis

While not (yet) designed specifically for educators and youth, many teachers are using our SuperBetter methodology to support their goals.

Young person mental health crisis

SuperBetter is a game-based learning platform that empowers educators and students to increase resilience, mental health and social emotional learning.

With its gameful methodology, playing SuperBetter engages students to practice skills, overcome challenges and develop habits in the real world.

Over 1 million people have played SuperBetter. Educators appreciate that it is backed by science. In randomized controlled and clinical trials, SuperBetter players saw significant improvements in resilience and mental health. Published meta-analyses show SuperBetter is among the most effective mobile apps validated for reducing anxiety & depression

A recommended resource for K-12 educators and students

SuperBetter is promoted by many K-12 schools as a resource to improve student mental health, build resilience, reduce stress and support social emotional learning. We regularly express our gratitude to these school allies by posting #ShoutOuts on our Twitter feed.

In this Edutopia article, There’s an App for That—School Counseling and SEL Go Online SuperBetter is recommended as an app to teach kids social and emotional skills.

Classcraft recognized SuperBetter as 1 of the 5 best apps that teachers can use to help students develop social emotional learning skills.

SuperBetter is also promoted as a resource for the wellbeing of educators and staff. This ‘Self Care for Teachers‘ webcast from Grand Canyon University K12 Professional Development recently featured SuperBetter as a tool for teachers and students.

Teachers are creating SuperBetter Classrooms

youth mental wellbeing crisis

We’re inspired by the resourcefulness and creativity of teachers around the country that use our gameful SuperBetter methodology as a practical way to engage students and bring social emotional learning concepts to life.

For example, this Mr. Sticky Chair bad guy poster is for the classroom teacher. He recruited his students to be his allies and let him know when he was sitting for longer than ten minutes.

A the bottom of this post we share more examples of fun and helpful materials created by teachers for their SuperBetter Classrooms.

K-12 teachers also find the SuperBetter, The Power of Living Gamefully book to be a helpful resource. The book has a chapter for each rule of playing SuperBetter (the methodology) that explains how the rule works, the science behind it, and activities to practice the rule in real life.

In his SlowChatHealth blog former SHAPE America National High School Health Teacher of the Year Andrew Milne shares that “some of my favorite go-to SEL activities come from the book SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal, in which there are nearly 100, easy to complete, ‘quests’ that you, or your students, can take in order to live life gamefully and ‘level up’ in life.”

Our new project to tailor SuperBetter for educators & students

We could’t be happier that SuperBetter empowers so many K-12 schools, teachers and students — even in its current form as a broad reaching self-help app (and helpful book).

Now we want to make it much easier for teachers to use SuperBetter with their classrooms. And we want to do it in a way that intentionally promotes the mental health & wellbeing of all students including youth of color and LGBTQ+.

We are lining up resources and alliances for a new project to tailor our app for educators & students. The project will add a new group play experience that enables teachers to host SuperBetter games for their students, and include additional resources to promote resilience, mental health and social-emotional learning.

It’s one way we’re doing our part to help tackle America’s youth mental health crisis.

Your allies at SuperBetter

youth anxiety and depression crisis
SuperBetter is featured in Ms. Long’s Bitmoji classroom
youth mental health crisis
A classroom poster showing the 4 types of resilience built by playing SuperBetter
young people mental health problem
A bad guy poster used in a SuperBetter Classroom. Work Avoid Noid represented work avoidance

Over 1 million people have played SuperBetter!

The SuperBetter team is feeling grateful.

In this post, we share what’s making us thankful, the bold mission that serves as our North Star, a new alliance to grow our impact, and resources to help navigate life in 2020.

Passing the 1 million player mark is an epic milestone for the SuperBetter Community. Thank you for being part of it.

SuperBetter brings the mindset and psychology of game play to real life to overcome tough situations. It’s a support system for success. Published studies show that playing SuperBetter increases resilience, mental health and social-emotional skills.

While passing the 1 million player mark is a notable achievement, it’s the stories about how SuperBetter impacts lives that touch our hearts. We smile from ear-to-ear when we read social media posts, emails and reviews sharing how playing SuperBetter helped to overcome a difficult obstacle or achieve success in some area of life. 

We appreciate all the allies around the world who believe in SuperBetter and recommend it to others. We do a happy dance every time we learn about another educator, therapist, K-12 school, college or university recommending our app. 

And we are thankful for our allies in the media. Their stories create awareness to grow our community. This is especially helpful since the SuperBetter app is 100% free right now, and free means no budget for advertising.

Some of our favorite media stories featuring SuperBetter are found in Business Insider, Vox, Built in and PsyberGuide.

We’re grateful to regularly find SuperBetter on media lists of best apps for mental health — often with Calm, Headspace and Talkspace.

As a scrappy bootstrapped company, it’s awesome to find SuperBetter alongside these apps from companies with $1 billion+ valuations and backed by hundreds of millions dollars of venture capital.

A few lists of best mental health apps are found in Parade, Real Simple & Women’s Health.

Going for our next epic win

One thing is clear, the world needs more of SuperBetter right now.

This is especially true for youth, a group which has experienced alarming increases in depression and anxiety rates over the past 8 years, including +61% growth in the prevalence of depression among age 12-17 between 2011-2017.

The pandemic is further adding to the mental health burden. In a CDC survey from June, a shocking 25.5% of young adults age 18-24 reported suicidal ideation in the past 30 days.

It’s time for SuperBetter to level up.

We’ve created a bold new mission statement as our guiding North Star:

To unlock the heroic potential of 50 million youth by 2025

Growing our impact from 1 million to 50 million people in 5 years will require world-class allies. We’re working on plans to achieve this level of impact in a way that is both scalable and sustainable.

Unlocking Heroic Potential in Developing Countries

While the SuperBetter team implements a plan to grow our impact in the developed world, a new alliance with Children for Health is bringing our proven resilience-building methodology to youth in developing countries.

Children for Health is a respected UK-based non-profit that creates and distributes resources for educators and students in low resource settings in developing countries. Their approach promotes child and adolescent health & wellbeing while empowering youth to be agents of change for their families & communities.

Children for Health has already incorporated SuperBetter activities in a new storybook called Unlocked.

The Unlocked story and activities help children learn how to increase their resilience and feelings of wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The storybook can be dowloaded here.

You are welcome to share the link for the free storybook with educators, parents & anyone else impacting children who might benefit — regardless of where they live in the world.

The vision for the SuperBetter Children for Health alliance can be found here.

Children for Health’s current project is a new resilience and wellbeing curriculum, SuperBetter Children in Africa. Designed for children age 10-14, the program is being developed alongside educators in low resource settings in Africa. It will be initially introduced in rural Zambia and Tanzania.

A similar project developed with input from educators in India will adapt the curriculum for a project called SuperBetter Children in India.

If you’re interested in learning more or supporting this work, reach out to the Children for Health team here.

Take Care of Yourself in 2020

2020 has been a challenging year for nearly everyone. Please prioritize your own self-care.

If you’re struggling, know that you are not alone. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, more than half of US adults (53%) reported that their mental health is negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the pandemic.

As a member of the SuperBetter Community, you are invited to attend REFUEL, a free virtual wellbeing event to restore and inspire you for the year ahead. The Dec. 16 event includes 5 amazing speakers including Tony Hawk and SuperBetter inventor Jane McGonigal. Learn more and register here.

We’re happy to be in a position to make the SuperBetter app available as a 100% free resource right now.

The app has a library of Power Packs. Some especially helpful in 2020 are Stay Strong in a Pandemic, The Stay-At-Home Scavenger Hunt, Being Awesome, and Better Than a Chill Pill.

Note that a tradeoff of keeping the apps free is the lack of resources to make regular updates, and the apps can be buggy. If you have trouble on your device, try the website. Be sure to explore the Secret Lab and bonus Ally features available on the website version!

As physical distancing limits in-person social connections, more people are finding support in virtual communities like our SuperBetter Community Group on Facebook. With over 4,000 members, it’s an amazing place to find allies and encouragement. You can join the community here.

Wishing you health and happiness. Stay safe.

Your allies at SuperBetter

An Update on SuperBetter’s Response to COVID-19

Covid-19 mental health crisis

It’s been just over 100 days since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic.

As the world began the scramble to find tests, respirators, masks and vaccine candidates to address the physical crisis, we anticipated the emerging COVID-19 mental health crisis on the horizon.

Our small team urgently shifted our efforts to help people navigate the mental health burden that would inevitably accompany the pandemic.

We’re especially concerned about the mental health burden of COVID-19 among high risk populations including young adults, youth and underserved communities. 

Experts Predict a Global Mental Health Crisis

The United Nations warns of a global mental health crisis during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Issues of systemic racism in America compound the crisis. In a recent USA Today story America is in turmoil, and a mental health crisis looms next, Jaime Diaz-Granados, acting chief scientific officer at the American Psychological Association reports “We are facing a culmination of crises unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes – in coronavirus, economic turmoil and racism.” 

Many factors are contributing to the mental health burden in America and globally. The impact will be felt for years. They include loss of normalcy, economic distress, job loss, uncertainty about the future, social isolation, a sense of chronic threat, grieving lost lives and lost opportunities.

Anxiety, depression, and suicide prevalence will likely increase especially among high risk groups including young adults, youth and underserved communities. These groups often have least access to traditional resources and support. 

Even before the pandemic, mental health was a major global problem. 284 million people around the world suffer with anxiety each year, 264 million from depression, and 800,000 complete suicide (Source: United for Global Mental Health: Return on the Individual).  

COVID19 behavioral health crisis

Prevalence of anxiety, depression and suicide among U.S. young adults and teens is increasing at alarming rates over the past decade.

The mental health burdens associated with COVID-19 promise to accelerate these trends.

Our Response to the COVID-19 Mental Health Burden

At SuperBetter, we’re working to make the world a whole lot better.

We offer a popular science backed app that improves resilience, mental health and social-emotional learning. SuperBetter is regularly found on media lists of best apps for mental health & wellbeing alongside VC-backed leaders like Calm, Headspace & Talkspace.

We are happy to be in a position to continue to make our app available 100% for free through the at least the end of 2020.

When the pandemic was announced we found ourselves in a unique position to help. We shifted our focus right away.

We started by reminding our community how published studies show that playing SuperBetter can help reduce anxiety. In turn many used social media to recommend SuperBetter to friends and followers. App downloads surged right away as people sought resources to manage Coronavirus stress and anxiety.

Next, since the pandemic is new to all of us, we crowdsourced insights from our SuperBetter Community about the new stressors and challenges they anticipated as they began to self-quarantine.

Third, we introduced a ‘pandemic-edition’ of SuperBetter, adding new Power Packs for challenges related to COVID-19 and physical distancing. The Stay-At-Home Scavenger Hunt and Stay Strong in a Pandemic can be found in the Power Pack library of the apps or website.

Finally, we joined the conversation about the emerging COVID-19 mental health crisis, participating in COVID-19 wellbeing conferences and other events.

For example, our Chief Science Officer Jane McGonigal guest lectured at Punch Through Pandemics with Psychological Science a national online psychology course with thousands of students hosted by Oregon State University.

Jane was also featured at a COVID-19 Mental Health Conference hosted by the 92nd Street Y where she interviewed her equally amazing and brilliant twin sister Kelly McGonigal (their 15 minute segment starts at 2:16:30).

Our CEO Keith Wakeman was interviewed by PsyberGuide for an article about how SuperBetter can help during the pandemic.

Early Successes

When the pandemic was announced, our urgent goal was to help more people navigate these challenging times. The efforts were successful. For the month of May, SuperBetter app store downloads are up 60% vs. pre-pandemic levels and global app sessions are up 42%.

As more people look for virtual social support while physical distancing, the number of people joining the SuperBetter Official Community Group each week nearly doubled.

Coronavirus Mental Health Crisis

We’re grateful for Allies across the U.S. and around the world that recommend SuperBetter to those they serve.

These Allies are found across media, colleges & universities, K-12 schools, medical centers, counseling centers, local governments, youth-focused non-profits, mental health non-profits, and others.

Our proactive response to the COVID-19 mental health crisis contributed to a 3-fold increase in media stores featuring SuperBetter so far this year. You can find over 50 media stories from 2020 on the SuperBetter Press Page.

Because of its credibility and science, SuperBetter is recommended by more organizations than ever. Hundreds include SuperBetter on resource pages for COVID-19, mental health, health services, self-care, student success, career services and social-emotional learning.

We acknowledged many of these Allies in a #ShoutOut campaign on the SuperBetter Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages over the past two months. 

We’re All in This Together

These are unusual and challenging times. The disruption of lives during the first 100 days of the COVID-19 is hard for nearly everyone. Nobody knows how long it will continue.

The world is just starting to see the effects of the global COVID-19 mental health crisis now following on the heels of the pandemic. The crises of economic turmoil and systemic racism are compounding the problem.

These are epic challenges. The world urgently needs more well-designed, science-backed tools in the toolkit, like SuperBetter, to help individuals and communities proactively build skills, empower peer-support and complement traditional care.

The SuperBetter team is committed to doing our part.

Stay safe and healthy. We appreciate you.

Your allies at SuperBetter

New Pandemic Edition of SuperBetter Promotes Mental Health During Coronavirus Crisis

The Coronavirus pandemic is a crisis and source of stress & personal challenge. Nearly everyone on the planet is impacted. Most have felt a loss of normal, many will lose jobs, some will lose friends & loved ones. The mental, social, emotional and physical burden will be heavy. The surge in anxiety during the initial phase of the pandemic is just the beginning.

To help people around the world navigate the crisis, we just added a new power pack to the SuperBetter game.

The Stay Strong in a Pandemic power pack is for anyone who wants to overcome challenges and stay strong during the COVID-19 pandemic. Activities help players increase mental, social, emotional and physical resilience while following World Health Organization and CDC guidance to slow the spread of the virus.

The Stay Strong in a Pandemic power pack features Quests to complete each day, troublesome Bad Guys to battle, and resilience-building Power-ups to activate. It includes two of Jane McGonigal’s special Power-ups: The Power Breath and The Plus One Technique

Because the crisis is so new, we initiated the pandemic edition of SuperBetter by crowdsourcing ideas from the our amazing community. We learned about the biggest challenges faced so far and anticipated during the pandemic. The ideas and insights informed the new evidence-based activities. 

SuperBetter is a game played in real life to improve resilience, mental health and social-emotional learning. Everything in the SuperBetter game is backed by the science of resilience and challenge response growth. Playing SuperBetter can help players navigate the crisis, build whole-person resilience and achieve personal growth in the process

Published meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials show SuperBetter is among the most effective mobile apps validated for reducing anxiety and depression

“So many people are already struggling. We feel the urgency to help,” says Keith Wakeman, SuperBetter CEO. “Adding power packs and making the app available for free is our way of doing our part to help right away as we put plans in place to have greater impact in the future.”

We previously introduced the Stay-at-Home Scavenger Hunt power pack to help players and their friends strengthen social connections while physical distancing. 

Find Stay Strong in a Pandemic in the ‘Get Power Packs’ area of the SuperBetter apps (iOSAndroid) or website.

Stay safe and healthy. We will get through this together.

Your allies at SuperBetter

Stay Strong in a Pandemic

The New Physical Distancing Game from SuperBetter

Physical distancing game

We added a new physical distancing game to our popular app.

The new Stay-at-Home Scavenger Hunt creates social connection and emotional wellbeing as players stay-at-home and practice physical distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

The new game supports the recent change by the World Health Organization to the promote the practice of ‘physical distancing’ (vs. ‘social distancing’) to emphasize the need to physically – but not socially – separate from others.

SuperBetter is a resilience-building game that helps players go for epic wins in real life.

The Stay-at-Home Scavenger Hunt physical distancing game is the first of two new SuperBetter Power Packs to help players boost their resilience, mental wellbeing and social-emotional skills during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The second, now in development, is a Coronavirus Game to promote emotional, mental, social and physical resilience while following World Health Organization guidance. We recently crowdsourced ideas from the SuperBetter Community to inform the activities.

A week ago SuperBetter reported that new app downloads more than doubled and global app sessions surged 40% over the prior week.

“People around the world are feeling tremendous losses of normalcy, safety, connection and economic stability,” says Keith Wakeman, SuperBetter CEO. “Adding Power Packs and keeping the SuperBetter app this year are ways we can help right away while we work on plans for even greater impact.”

The Stay-at-Home Scavenger Hunt is a physical distancing game that increases social connection. It sparks positive emotions like curiosity, surprise and gratitude. The 2-week game challenges players to find one new thing every day without ever leaving their home. Players share their daily finds with friends, family, the SuperBetter Community, or on social media using hashtag #SuperBetterScavengerHunt.

Find The Stay-at-Home Scavenger Hunt in the ‘Get Power Packs’ area of the SuperBetter apps (iOS, Android) or website. Game on!

#StayAtHomeAndStaySafe

The SuperBetter Team

Physical Distancing Game Activity

Help Turn SuperBetter into a Coronavirus Game

Coronavirus Game

The SuperBetter team is developing two new Power Packs in response to the Coronavirus Pandemic. The first – to be introduced next week – is a Physical Distancing Game to increase social connection while practicing physical distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. The second is the Coronavirus Game discussed in this post.

Navigating the realities of life during a pandemic is new to all of us. We need your help to adapt the SuperBetter game to help people thrive during the Coronavirus pandemic.

At SuperBetter we are grateful to be part of an amazing community willing to collaborate on big epic wins. This one is really big.

We want to turn SuperBetter into a Coronavirus game that helps people and communities around the world successfully managing the stress, disruption and uncertainty associated with COVID-19 while supporting public health strategies to inhibit its spread.

To support this epic win, we are creating a new Coronavirus Power Pack for the SuperBetter game. The Power Pack will have Power-ups to activate, Bad Guys to battle and Quests to complete.

The Power Pack activities will help players build mental, emotional, social and physical resilience as they follow World Health Organization and CDC Coronavirus guidelines. The Power Pack will be available for free in the SuperBetter apps and website.

You can help by reflecting on the challenges you anticipate due to Coronavirus and what is working for you right now. Think like a gamer and turn your ideas into Power-ups, Bad Guys and Quests. Have fun with it and don’t worry about making your ideas perfect.

Share your ideas here.

Back at SuperBetter HQ we will use the ideas to inform the creation of an evidence-based Power Pack for the SuperBetter game.

The SuperBetter game is backed by science. Published studies show that playing SuperBetter increases the seven mental, emotional and social measures scientifically linked to higher resilience. Meta-analyses show SuperBetter to be among the most effective mobile apps on the market for reducing anxiety. Nearly a million people have played SuperBetter so far. Its popularity, strong science and gameful approach makes SuperBetter a promising solution to help people around the world thrive during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Thank you in advance for being an ally in this epic win of global magnitude!

Game on!

Please go here to share your ideas by Sunday, March 22, 2020.

Jane’s First TED Talk Turns Ten

Wow – it’s been a decade since Jane McGonigal said we should aim to achieve 20 billion hours a week playing games by the year 2020. Jane is the inventor of SuperBetter.

Well, it’s 2020. We’re gaming 18.9 billion hours a week. Good job, world!

Watch Jane’s First TED Talk here: Gaming can make a better world

Of course we love Jane’s second TED Talk too. That’s the one where where she shares her inspiring story that led to SuperBetter: The game that can give you 10 extra years of life

Together these talks have 15 million views on TED and YouTube. That’s A LOT of people interested in the idea that we can use the science of games to improve real lives and solve real problems facing society today.

#SuperBetter

The #TechForGood Design Principles Behind SuperBetter

Built In just released an excellent story about the science, mission and #TechForGood design principles that make SuperBetter a usual suspect on media lists of best apps for mental health & wellbeing.

Built In is a respected tech industry publisher and community builder. Their vision is to connect the world through a shared passion for tech and the human need for purpose. Built In was excited to share the SuperBetter case study as a source of ‘Tech for Good’ insights for their community of product designers.

The title is “How to Gamify Wellbeing Without Missing the Point.”

You can read the story here.

You could win a custom SuperBetter adventure!

SuperBetter book

You already know SuperBetter is a gameful way of living that can change your life, and now there’s a book that proves it.  If you’re ready to get even stronger, happier, braver, and more resilient, then you don’t want to miss this!

SuperBetter creator Jane McGonigal’s book comes out in just a few weeks, and you can sign up today to be one of the first people to read it.  Even cooler, Jane is offering some incredible prizes for a few lucky winners, including a private coaching session and custom secret identities.

Best of all, absolutely everybody who pre-orders SuperBetter gets VIP access to a Google hangout where Jane will answer your questions about anything and everything.  To see all the awesome rewards and learn more about how to sign up to get them, click here!