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The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 11 percent of adolescents will have suffered from a depressive disorder by age 18, while 25 percent will have suffered from anxiety and close to 6 percent will have suffered from extreme anxiety and depression. This can be enormous burden for any teen to carry, and unfortunately, they oftentimes go undiagnosed. Of all teens suffering from anxiety, only 18 percent receive mental health care. The impact can be tragic. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, suicide is the third-leading cause of death of young people.

Amanda Arellano (19), Stephanie Lopez (17) and Chloe Westphal (17), are hoping to change that. This group of high school students at the Tri-Tech Skills Center in Kennewick, Washington, has developed an innovative new app called “Safe & Sound.” The app aims to help students manage stress and recognize the early warning signs of anxiety and depression. The app also includes list of hotlines for students to call in an emergency, a crisis alert feature, advice for discussing problems with others, and a journal feature that allows teens to track stress and anxiety, as well as advice on how to deal with them.

“It’s just kind of how to deal with everyday stresses that come your way despite what they are, so, like, exercise or hobbies. We have a breathing exercise in there that plays music and daily inspirational quotes. So you can just tap the button and get a cool quote,” Arellano explained. “For day-to-day things that you’re kind of stressed out about, you can use any of those suggestions.”

“Safe & Sound” was originally a project for the students’ health informatics class, a course that focuses on the potential uses of information technology in the health care industry. But what started out as a high school project has garnered the three teens a significant amount of national attention. “Safe & Sound” won Best in the Nation at the Verizon App Challenge, and the app has now taken them all the way to the White House, where the girls presented at the fifth annual White House Science Fair.

Arellano explained that inspiration for the app came from her own personal experiences. “I’ve gone through depression and anxiety before. And it’s common in my family, and I’ve had a cousin who actually committed suicide because he felt like he couldn’t talk to anybody about what he was feeling and stuff,” she said.

The teens say they that they felt an app would be an effective way to offer teens struggling with mental health issues to get help they need and deserve anonymously. While many teens simply aren’t comfortable asking for help in person, they download apps all the time, making “Safe & Sound” an innovative and effective way to make a difference in the especially vulnerable teen demographic.

As part of their Verizon App Challenge prize, the teens will be meeting with Massachusetts Institute of Technology trainers to develop and launch the app. The goal is for the app to be available by June of this year. “Our hope is that ‘Safe and Sound’ will be more than just a stress management app,” the girls explained, “but a light in the darkness that is anxiety and depression.”

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