October 8, 2020

Virtual Hope Box grows in popularity




One of the greatest risk factors for suicide is feeling hopeless. One way to challenge suicidal ideations and urges is to cultivate hope.

Mental health specialists have traditionally intervened by creating a “Hope Box” for their patients —a collection of various items that remind patients that their lives are meaningful and worth living; however, this can be difficult for service members and veterans to carry while performing service duties. The desire to avoid public stigma can cause individuals to not seek direct clinical support and cost can also be a consideration to seeking mental health care.

To overcome these barriers, the Virtual Hope Box (VHB) was developed in 2014 as a technological accessory to mental health treatment to reduce suicide ideations and improve mental wellbeing. The VHB is a multimedia, enhanced version of a conventional hope box delivered as a free smartphone application.

The Geneva Foundation partnered with Nigel Bush, a research psychologist at the DoD’s National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Washington and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Portland Health Care System in Portland, Oregon to conduct clinical trials in 2014 and 2015. Veterans who used the app experienced a greater ability to cope with unpleasant emotions and thoughts and reported finding the VHB to be more helpful than written educational materials. Since this time, it has been downloaded more than 680,000 times, averaging 11,000 times per month, according to a recent article from the Military Health System.

The app is divided into six sections: Remind Me, Distract Me, Inspire Me, Relax Me, Coping Tools and Support Contacts. The VHB contains personalized multimedia tools to help patients with coping, relaxation, distraction, and positive thinking. The patient can customize the hope box to include reminders of positive life experiences and other items they find supportive. The VHB also provides the patient with positive activity planning, distraction tools, and interactive relaxation exercises.

Mobile mental health support provides users with convenience, anonymity, consistency, and around-the-clock service. The technology is utilized to complement traditional therapy rather than replace it.

It was first introduced to the public in February 2014 and was awarded the DoD Innovation Award that year. The VHB receives high ratings from users on the Apple App Store and Google Play. It is available as a free download on iOS and Android platforms