Youth mental health app ‘first of its kind in Canada’

BoosterBuddy app provides coping mechanisms, game-like tasks for teens dealing with mental health issues

Clinical lead Lauren Fox displays BoosterBuddy

Take a moment to browse the /r/depression forum on Reddit and the reality becomes immediately clear: today’s youth flock to online mediums to deal with mental illness.

But a new app, thought to be the first of its kind in Canada, is aiming to reach teens in that digital realm when they need it most.

BoosterBuddy uses video game design elements to establish positive habits to mental health, said Drew Barnes, program co-ordinator with Island Health’s mental health and substance use services.

“In our hospital, the goal is to work with youth like a coach, to reconnect them with their school, family, friends, so they can move beyond our care,” Barnes said at the app launch event last week. “When we first proposed this app, we didn’t know if anyone would relate to the idea or where it would go.”

To the surprise of Barnes and clinical lead Lauren Fox, teens in the focus study were enthusiastic about the idea of an app to assist them in their recovery.

They wanted a companion, Barnes said, and they wanted it to provide symptom tracking over time, crisis contacts and medication notifications.

“They wanted the app to encourage them to feel good,” he said.

When Calgary-based developers Robots & Pencils began developing BoosterBuddy, they also learned teens wanted an easily accessible list of coping mechanisms, such as tips for controlled breathing exercises to help with anxiety.

The app was created in partnership with Island Health, Victoria Hospitals Foundation and a $150,000 donation from Coast Capital Savings.

Coast Capital’s vice president of people, Lewisa Anciano, said the business sector has a responsibility to act on major health challenges in the community.

“Approximately 1.2 million youth in Canada live with mental illness, but only 20 per cent will get the help they need,” Anciano said.

The company donates seven per cent of its pre-tax profits back into the community, which will equal $5.7 million in 2014 alone, she said.

Dr. Abraham Rudnick, medical director with Island Health’s mental health and substance use services, said mental health disorders have become the second highest reason for youth admission at Canadian hospitals.

One in five young people now report experiencing mental health challenges.

Creating a tool that gives these teens hope, through an app they can carry in their pocket, holds potential for better mental health outcomes in the future, he said.

“This is leading-edge work,” Rudnick said. “As this app is shared across Canada, it will help to improve the lives of thousands of young people.”

Download BoosterBuddy on any Android or Apple mobile device.

editor@saanichnews.com