Mental health app unveiled in Sask.

A recent demonstration shows how a program developed in the province can help farmers manage their stress levels. | Screencap via bridgeshealth.com

A recent demonstration shows how a program developed in the province can help farmers manage their stress levels

Avail: a mental health app was created with farmers and ranchers in mind.

It’s a comprehensive and personalized health tool to encourage and help producers manage their stress.

Aptly named, the mobile app was officially announced and demonstrated during a recent webinar.

Bridges Health is a wellness firm based in Saskatoon with a focus on mental health.

Last March, after a Saskatchewan-wide Innovation Challenge, the company was chosen from among technology enterprises that offered solutions for farmers and ranchers to monitor their mental health.

As the challenge winner, Bridges Health was awarded $10,000 and a 16-week collaboration with Innovation Saskatchewan and the Ministry of Agriculture to develop Avail.

“One of our core focuses is mental health and we are blessed to work alongside many agricultural communities, associations and companies assisting with mental health programs and services” said Leon Ferguson, Bridges Health vice-president.

“We understand the strains and impacts that people face every day. We recognize a need for a system to offer a self-assessment tool, a hub for information and education and a conduit to support individuals and their families,” he said during the webinar.

Avail is expected to take some pressure off the province’s existing Farm Stress Line, which has seen a significant rise in calls during the past two years.

“Not to suggest that the stress lines aren’t important because they are, but what we’re trying to do is achieve the success and the prevention and sustainability and to thrive, so that those stress lines aren’t needed as much,” he said.

“It’s an opportunity for people to really get a full understanding of their overall health and wellness, and be able to manage that themselves as much as possible and seek health where they need it and not just in a crisis.”

Ferguson described the app as proactive in nature and personalized to the individual by helping them gain insights, education and supports for their mental health and well-being goals.

Once signed up, the user creates a profile, followed by a self-assessment.

Avail analyzes multiple areas of wellness data, said Kyle Anderson, business development consultant with Bridges Health.

Health and wellness are tracked across 10 different areas: anger and conflict, stress and anxiety, self-esteem, sleep and energy, financial well-being, social relationships, mood and emotions, nutrition and healthy eating, pain management, and physical activity.

It then measures or scores how the individual is doing in each specific area as part of a detailed report and periodically asks for follow-up assessments to track any changes.

“It identifies which areas in there they are doing really well in as well as areas for improvement, so which ones would be most beneficial to focus on,” said Anderson.

“You would complete that self-assessment pretty regularly, usually once or twice a week. Then you can track your progress over time and identify when the scores are going up or down. If it’s going up it helps increase that motivation, give yourself that pat on the back and be able to identify when you are making that progress. And then when it is starting to turn down you can identify it early before things get worse,” he said.

Once an individual receives a score, they will have access to a resource library of articles, videos and online tips to assist in finding solutions for those 10 areas.

“Let’s say stress and anxiety is the highest concern. If you choose to follow that topic you’d receive an email sent directly to you once a week with some self-help resources specific to that area.

“On your own time, you can also go in and we have a library of existing resources. There’s hundreds of videos and articles and tips and activities of things that people can be doing on their own,” he said.

Also unique to Avail are new resources that specifically address issues that affect the agricultural community, such as managing harvest stress, isolation and financial uncertainty.

As well, an individual can use the app to access a list of health-care professionals in Saskatchewan.

“There’s a profile on them, so you can read a little bit about them, see if it is somebody that would be a good fit, and then you can reach out and connect directly with them,” he said.

Added Ferguson: “There’s a rigid due diligence process that we go through…so with that we’re pretty confident the people that are in there now are well-respected professionals and community services.

“We wanted to ensure that the majority of these professionals offered remote or telephone services so that people living remotely or in smaller communities can still access support.”

Users also have several voluntary options to build their own personal peer support network with others who download the app.

Avail will send an alert to selected individuals within those networks if the app notices any significant changes during self-assessments.

“If my score goes down then the people in my support network would receive a notification. It takes some of the guesswork out of knowing when to reach out and offer support to others,” he said.

“It’s scary and tough sometimes to reach out and ask for support.”

Bridges Health stresses that confidentiality and maintaining privacy are built in and strictly adhered to.

“We abide by all of the privacy regulations,” Anderson said.

“There would just be an update saying their overall score has gone down. It wouldn’t have any detailed information on areas that they’re struggling in.”

Added Ferguson: “The only information that’s shared is the content that you approve and give access to your network.”

More information is at bridgeshealth.com and Avail can be downloaded from Google Play and the Apple Store.

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