The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis: SuperBetter’s Response

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.

In the early days, as the world scrambled to find tests, respirators, masks and vaccine candidates to address the physical crisis, we anticipated the COVID-19 mental health crisis emerging on the horizon.

Given the urgency of the need, our small but mighty SuperBetter team made a commitment to shift our immediate focus to do what we can, with the resources available, to help people to navigate the mental health burden that would inevitably accompany the pandemic.

We’re especially concerned about the emotional and 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 are compounding 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.” 

A multitude of factors are contributing to the mental health burden in America and globally. The impact will be felt for months and 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.

We expect rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide to increase, especially among young adults, youth and people in underserved communities. These high risk groups often have the least access to traditional resources and support. 

Mental health was already a large global problem before the pandemic. 284 million people around the world suffer with anxiety each year, 264 million from depression, and 800,000 complete suicide (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 has been increasing at alarming rates over the past decade.

The burdens on mental health caused by COVID-19 promise to further accelerate these trends.

Our Response to the COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis

SuperBetter is a little company trying to make the world a whole lot better.

We offer a popular app that improves resilience, mental health and social-emotional learning. Users experience SuperBetter as a game played in real life. Nearly 1 million people have played SuperBetter. Our app is regularly found on media lists of best apps for mental health & wellbeing. SuperBetter is backed by science. Right now, we are happy to be in a position to make our app available 100% free for anyone to use.

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

We started by reminding our SuperBetter community how our app can be helpful during these challenging times, and that published studies show that playing SuperBetter can help reduce anxiety. Many in turn used their social media platforms to recommend SuperBetter to friends, family, and other followers. We saw a surge in app downloads right away as people started to self-quarantine and looked for help to manage Coronavirus-related stress and anxiety.

Next, since the pandemic is new to all of us, we crowdsourced insights from the SuperBetter Community about stressors and obstacles they anticipated in their new normal. We used these insights to inform the creation of new app activities.

Third, we introduced the ‘pandemic-edition’ of SuperBetter, adding two new Power Packs to address challenges associated with COVID-19 and physical distancing. The Stay-At-Home Scavenger Hunt and Stay Strong in a Pandemic can be found in the ‘Get Power Packs’ area of the mobile apps or website.

Fourth, we joined the conversation about the COVID-19 mental health crisis and built awareness that SuperBetter and the new pandemic-edition Power Packs are a free, broad reaching, evidence-based resource to help people around the world improve resilience and mental health during these difficult times.

We participated in virtual COVID-19 wellbeing conferences, a COVID-19 Techathon, an Edtech Conference and guest lectured at Punch Through Pandemics with Psychological Science a national online psychology course hosted by Oregon State University.

Our Chief Science Officer Jane McGonigal was 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).

And, our CEO Keith Wakeman was interviewed by PsyberGuide for a Q&A about how SuperBetter can help during the pandemic.

Early Successes

When the pandemic was announced, our urgent epic win 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 in 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. 

Answering the Call to Do More

SuperBetter is uniquely positioned to help young adults, youth and people in underserved communities increase resilience, mental health and social-emotional learning – at scale – during and after the COVID-19 mental health crisis.  

Here’s why. The SuperBetter app is convenient and accessible to anyone with a smartphone or web access. It’s effective — playing SuperBetter builds resilience, and published meta-analyses show it is one of the most effective apps validated for reducing anxiety and depression. It’s popular —  SuperBetter has attracted 1 million users so far (with zero advertising budget).

SuperBetter taps the universally familiar mindset and language of game play. Game play brings people together and transcends ages, ethnic backgrounds and income levels. The SuperBetter game is especially appealing to young adults and youth. Many prefer an energizing, social and adaptable gameful experience instead of (or in addition to) the quiet calm of meditation.

The magnitude of the global mental health crisis during and after COVID-19 requires population-wide impact. In SuperBetter, The Power of Living Gamefully Jane McGonigal explains one of the rules for playing SuperBetter: Go for an epic win – an awe inspiring outcome that helps you be more motivated and less afraid of failure.

Coronavirus behavioral health crisis

Motivated by the magnitude of the need, we’re going for a super epic win — to impact 50 million SuperBetter players by 2025.

While it’s a big number, 50 million represents fewer than 2% of the 2.7 billion people around the world that play video games.

To impact the needs of young adults and youth, our plans include expanding SuperBetter beyond solo play, and adding features for educators to create & share SuperBetter games with students to improve resilience, mental health and social-emotional learning.

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 was 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

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