Teen Suicide Prevention-Focused Event Brings Social Media Companies, Experts, Teens, and Others Together to Find Solutions

San Francisco, Feb. 26, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- YouTube, Crisis Text Line, technologists, mental health experts, and high school students convened in San Francisco on January 17 to discuss whether technology can be harnessed to reduce teen suicide and improve mental health. The teen-focused app After School hosted the gathering as part of its Social Media Safety in Schools (SMSS) conference series, which brings together diverse stakeholders to tackle emerging social issues involving young people and technology.

The conference was moderated by After School VP Jeff Collins and “tech ethicist” David Ryan Polgar. In addition to YouTube and Crisis Text Line, participants included the University of Oregon Suicide Prevention Program, Suicide Prevention App, 7 Cups, #ICANHELP, iCanHelpline.org, ConnectSafely, My Digital TAT2, and others.

“We know that we can always do more and we want to do more,” shared YouTube Public Policy Analyst Rachel Madden. “How do we reach people who need us, at the right time, with the right messages?” she continued during the tech industry panel. The panel featured representatives from both social media companies and nonprofits who described their successes and challenges in addressing teen mental health issues.

Thomas Insel, former Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, discussed how the complexity of suicide calls for an approach that is distinct from other mental health challenges. “Suicide is a complex problem…complex problems require a different kind of thinking about them.” A significant part of what will make an impact in preventing suicide, according to Insel, will come from teens. “Students need to be involved as co-developers.”

The student voice was featured prominently at the conference. Eight high school students participated in the event, sharing their perspectives throughout the day. During a student panel discussion, teens gave insights into what it’s like to grow up in a world where social media is ingrained in their lives and here to stay. Sixteen-year-old Amanda Southworth connected being a teen with the company perspective. She described how she turned the tables on her personal struggles with anxiety, depression, peer pressure, and bullying by using her computer programming skills to create applications that help other young people. Southworth developed AnxietyHelper app, a mental help tool kit, and Verena, “a security system for the LGBTQ+ community.”

After School CEO Michael Callahan and Suicide Prevention App Founder Christopher Munch described how the issue of suicide touched them personally throughout their lives, and what they’ve done to channel their difficult experiences into developing new technologies intended to help others in today’s interconnected online world.

Participants also collaborated in an afternoon exercise designed to stimulate innovative thinking on how to use technology to help teens navigate mental health issues. For the exercise, small break-out groups brainstormed how to handle several hypothetical scenarios involving teens and suicide.

In his closing remarks, David Ryan Polgar said his biggest takeaway was  that “we need to better connect organizations, companies, researchers, educators, and the perspectives of teens.” He noted that “social media companies are now deeply aware of their responsibility [to help young people], but need the assistance of experts around mental health.” For Polgar, “this is no longer about making a sticky app that grabs eyeballs — this is about improving technology to save lives.”

For information on follow-up events and SMSS 2019, contact After School at press@afterschoolapp.com.


A photo accompanying this announcement is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/34a36206-6692-4126-8980-9293c97124e7


A photo accompanying this announcement is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/3e57d7f8-cab5-4463-8b29-ff274628fd76


A photo accompanying this announcement is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/614fa2c4-65ac-406b-834f-b40886d8758e

Tech ethicist David Ryan Polgar discusses the importance of using social media responsibly at the 2018 Social Media Safety in Schools event hosted by After School. "Social media is like a knife -- it can be used to inflict pain or carve a better future,” says Polgar. 

Polgar moderated the event, held January 17, alongside After School Vice President Jeff Collins. Teens at the 2018 Social Media Safety in Schools event discuss the role social media plays in their lives and how they approach their own mental health. 

The one-day event focused on preventing teen suicide and promoting positive mental health in teens using technology and social media.

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