Friday, May 1, 2020

Amazing Apps: Shadow's Edge

Shadow's Edge is a mobile game designed to help teens with chronic and severe illness cope with their own mental health struggles. The game has since been expanded to appeal to all teens,it's very timely: isolation can especially be tough on kids and teens, who may feel very alone right now, and parents may be at a loss on how to help.

Tech entrepreneur, screenwriter and award-winning producer Rosemary Lokhorst lived with chronic illness for 20 years before teaming up with The Digging Deep Project and a team of psychologists to develop and expand Shadow's Edge. Lokhorst designed the game to make young adults who are struggling with mental and physical health crises have somewhere to go to feel heard and seen—and to know they're not defined by their problems.

Shadow's Edge is available in six languages, and Lokhorst developed the app so well that it's delivered proven psychological benefits for players, including:
  • Proactive Coping: Dealing in a future-oriented way with a difficult situation; setting realistic goals
  • Mindfulness and acceptance: The nonjudgmental focus on and acceptance of present moment experiences
  • Optimism: A mental and emotional attitude that future conditions will work out for the best
  • Emotional Regulation: The capacity to allow and deal with strong emotions
  • Derived Meaning: Getting a sense of purpose through what is happening
  • Positive Self Identity: Having a feeling of self-worth
  • Connection: Being able to access the feeling of being supported and being able to reach out for help within the game's own network of players
The numbers speak for themselves: 80% of players saw increased optimism, 82% saw better emotional regulation, 83% felt more connected and 76% improved mindfulness, awareness and self-identity.

I had a chance to interview Rosemary to learn more.

Why did you create this app originally?
Shadow's Edge is a product of the Digging Deep project spearheaded by author and brain cancer survivor, Sheri Sobrato Brisson. The book, Digging Deep: A Journal for Young People Facing Health Challenges, helps teens tell their story and be empowered by it. They learn that their illness isn't what defines them. More than 35,000 copies were distributed to hospitals and used as a tool to discuss difficult topics with teens and children. After witnessing the success of the book, Sheri wanted to do more and decided to go digital and put a team together. About two years ago, the Digging Deep team launched Shadow's Edge in the hopes of reaching more young people with a hyper-interactive platform with lasting impact. The game meets teens where they are and helps them take the learning and skills from the game to build resilience in their real life and find meaning in their struggles.

Why was it expanded to reach all teens?
We wanted to expand its reach to all teens, even those who aren't battling chronic illnesses in order to provide a safe and restorative environment for young people dealing with the mental hardships of today's society. Studies show that one in three teens face emotional struggles, from anxiety to depression and 75% self-report that they would benefit from a little emotional support. This was before COVID. And so, especially now, as we are all social distancing, teens can feel particularly isolated being away from the people who make up such a huge part of their lives and contribute to their emotional and mental development. We believe Shadow's Edge can help all teens from all walks of life dealing with anxiety, depression, illness, etc. and believe in the power of this game to heal through self-expression and self-discovery. Everyone is dealing with something and our hope is that Shadow's Edge will help all teens with their "something" in a way that leads to growth.

What makes it helpful for teens?
Shadow's Edge is based on narrative therapy, using storytelling and interactive activities to promote changes in perspective, enable distance from pain or trauma, and identify skills and strategies for managing illness and/or major stressors that teens often face. It is especially helpful for teens who are learning who they are and figuring out how to express themselves. Players have the ability to create and share art that demonstrates how they're feeling. It is a very personal journey, but there is also a sense of collaboration and support that is vital for teens going through tough times and dealing with the overwhelm of the current health crisis. Our impact studies show improvements in optimism, positive self-identity and emotional regulation, amongst others when playing the game regularly. In game exercises and evolving content and community participation make this a tool that teens can rely on during their journey to resilience.

How can parents help use tools like this to maintain their teen's mental health?
We created a game so that we could bring a more relatable tool to help teens navigate challenges they're facing with mental health. Parents can introduce tools like these to their own kids and use them as a catalyst to dive deeper into subjects that may be hard to talk about without a jumping off point. Shadow's Edge lets teens find purpose and build resilience at their own pace. Difficult discussions should never be forced, so utilizing a tool like Shadow's Edge can help bridge the gap between concerned parents and their teens and provide an opportunity to discover their strength on their own terms.

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