Local Experts Develop COVID-19 Mental Health, Self-Care App

A new app from the team that developed the Sonoma Rises app following the 2017 wildfires helps users cope with stress and anxiety amid the pandemic.

As the coronavirus continues to spread in the United States, sickening more than 950,000 people and leading to death of over 53,000, there is another toll that may be less jarring but also devastating: the impact on our mental wellbeing.

Across the country, people are worried about their own health and that of loved ones, as they watch a standstill economy wreak havoc on their personal finances. Many are feeling lonely and isolated at home, and anxious and stressed about an uncertain future. According to a recent study by The Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of American adults say that worry and stress related to the pandemic is hurting mental health.

A new app — COVID Coach — seeks to help make things a little easier for those currently struggling with stress, anxiety and depression. The free app was developed by the same team that launched the Sonoma Rises app following the 2017 wildfires. It was released on Apple’s iTunes store in mid-April and on Google Play on Thursday. It has received federal endorsement through its association with he U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Dr. Adrienne Heinz, a Healdsburg psychologist, was part of the team of experts that created the COVID Coach and Sonoma Rises apps at the National Center for PTSD in Palo Alto.

Heinz, who collaborated with Bay Area psychologists Dr. Beth Jaworski, Dr. Katherine Taylor and Dr. Sarah Steinmetz in developing the app, said it can be used both as a standalone education and self-care tool, as well as a supplement to professional mental health care.

“Apps are not replacements for treatment, but are a great way to reach people during this age of social distancing, at any time and any place,” said Heinz. “We like to think of the app as a way to help democratize access to evidence-informed tools you’d receive in a health care setting.”

The COVID Coach app features a variety of mental health resources including mood trackers and advice on how to manage financial stress and balance parenting with other responsibilities. It also incorporates breathing techniques and mindfulness practices that can help people maintain a sense of calm and manage tension with partners and other family members.

Sarah Steinmetz, a psychologist in San Francisco and part of the team behind COVID Coach, highlighted the different ways users can utilize the app. They can mark their favorite coping tools, track mental health over time, and create a personal support network of experts.

“It can serve a wide range of people,” she said. “Right now, with so many people stuck at home, the app offers great coping exercises that satisfy a variety of need(s).”

Steinmetz added that, to her knowledge, COVID Coach is the only app that has been specifically developed to offer mental health resources to people dealing with the effects of the coronavirus.

Sonoma Rises — which served as an inspiration for COVID Coach — was created in partnership with the Healthcare Foundation of Northern Sonoma County, a nonprofit that serves local residents in a variety of capacities.

Kim Bender, the organization’s executive director, said the disaster-tested region is uniquely positioned to take a leading role in helping others cope with crisis and trauma.

“Between the fires and the floods and the power shutoffs, we’ve been through a lot and we’re used to having to adapt and take seriously communication about big-picture things,” said Bender. “Add to that the fact that we’re close to Silicon Valley and you’ve got the perfect environment to use technology for good.”

Already, more than 2,650 people have downloaded the COVID Coach app, more than double downloads for Sonoma Rises.

The new app is available to users across the country and developers hope it will be able to help hundreds of thousands of people.

“Whether you’re talking about people who have the virus, people who are out of work, or people who are simply adapting to a new reality at home, we’re all struggling to some extent right now,” said Heinz.

“If this app can help people get through this difficult time; if it can make a difference in someone’s life by getting that person the resources he or she needs, that’s the most important thing.”

You can download COVID Coach for iPhones here, and for Android here. Find more mental health resources and advice in this article.