The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis: An Update on 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 on the horizon. The SuperBetter team took action, making a commitment to do what we could, with what we have available to help people to navigate the mental health burden caused as a result of the pandemic.

Looking forward, we’re especially concerned about the mental health impact of COVID-19 on 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 increased at alarming rates over the past decade.

One of the biggest risks is that the mental health pressures caused by COVID-19 will further accelerate these alarming trends.

Our Immediate 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 success. Users experience SuperBetter as a game played in real life. 1 million people from around the world have played SuperBetter so far. Our app is regularly found on media lists of best apps for mental health & wellbeing, often alongside VC-backed apps like Calm and Headspace that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars. SuperBetter is backed by science. Today, our app is 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.

SuperBetter has attracted a passionate global community. We first started by reminding our 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 their Coronavirus 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 new activities for the app.

Third, we introduced two new evidence-based, pandemic-edition Power Packs to address challenges created by 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, mental health and success 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.

UPDATE: after this post was published, Jane 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).

Our Efforts Have Been Successful So Far

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

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 proactively promote SuperBetter as a resource for the people they serve.

These Allies include people 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. 

We’re Calling for Allies to Help Us Do More

SuperBetter is uniquely positioned to help young adults, youth and people in underserved communities increase their resilience, mental health and success – 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).

The familiar mindset and language of games found in SuperBetter is universal. It brings people together and transcends ages, ethnic backgrounds and income levels. The SuperBetter game is especially appealing to young adults and youth. Many find the game a more energizing, social and adaptable experience compared to 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.

Motivated by the magnitude of the cause, Team SuperBetter is going for a super epic win of 50 million SuperBetter players by 2030. That level of scale will create national and global impact and strengthen resilience and social cohesion at the individual, community and societal level. As a reference, 50 million represents fewer than 2% of the 2.7 billion current video game players around the world.

But, we can’t do this alone. To achieve this awe-inspiring epic win, we need to recruit our allies (another rule for playing SuperBetter). We are now working to identify and recruit mission-aligned investors and strategic partners who care about both social impact and financial return.

Coronavirus behavioral health crisis

We have exciting plans that will take the SuperBetter game to a whole new level, including a new Group Play experience.

With resources in place, we’ll upgrade the SuperBetter app and make it available on the app stores, and through colleges & universities, K-12 schools, and employers.

Our solution will address large customer needs for student success & retention in higher ed, social-emotional learning in K-12 schools, and talent development for employers.

The result will be a long-term sustainable business with big social impact that supports young adults, youth and people in underserved communities — during and after the pandemic.

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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